Whenever Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers drives the smoke-hazed roads in and around the Methow Valley, he passes the skeletons of foundations where houses stood before this summer’s wildfires left their mark.
The Carlton complex fire, the largest in recorded state history, destroyed at least 340 houses. More than two-thirds of those were considered primary residences, not vacation homes. And so the federal government’s decision to deny emergency disaster assistance for people who have lost their homes surprised Rogers.
“There’s a lot of devastation out there, and we’re not a rich county,” Rogers said. “Where are these people going to stay for the long term?”
Among other things, the aid would have provided rental assistance to those who had lost homes, along with unemployment insurance, crisis counseling and grants to help them replace possessions.
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Earlier in the week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved part of the state’s request that would provide money to rebuild roads, utility poles and other infrastructure.
FEMA didn’t say why it rejected the individual-assistance request, according to Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for the governor.
The governor’s office plans to appeal the denial, according to Smith.
State officials are planning to send crews to the sites of homes destroyed in the fire that they couldn’t get to earlier to gather information for the appeal, according to Karina Shagren, spokeswoman for the state Military Department.
FEMA did not immediately respond to calls or emails seeking comment.
Meanwhile, fires continue to burn across the state.
Much of Washington remains under a red-flag warning until at least Wednesday night, according to the National Weather Service. The warning means weather conditions, including scattered lightning throughout the area, could lead to additional fires.
Lightning storms Monday night led to 17 new fires across the state, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.
Information Officer Jean Nelson-Dean said those fires burned about 1,370 acres. By Tuesday evening, 15 of them were contained, with firefighters still working for containment of two.
The Haven Lake fire northwest of Olympia had burned about 260 acres by Tuesday night and was zero percent contained. Fire officials said it was burning on steep, forested terrain and was threatening three commercial properties.
The Tenino complex southwest of Olympia involves three fires that by Tuesday evening had burned about 30 acres with zero percent containment.
Firefighters are starting to get a handle on other wildfires burning across the state, although some are still growing.
Several lightning-caused fires in Central Washington continue to be active. Among them is the Devil’s Elbow complex, which has grown to nearly 32 square miles since it started Aug. 3.
The North Central Washington complex is 7 percent contained. Thirty-two residents have been evacuated. Two minor structures have been destroyed.
The Snag Canyon fire burning 10 miles north of Ellensburg in Central Washington also is growing. It was last measured at more than 16 square miles and is 30 percent contained. The fire has destroyed nine residences and 12 minor structures.
Officials estimate the Carlton complex will be fully contained by the end of the week as a low-pressure weather system moves through the region, bringing cooler temperatures and thunderstorms.
Smoke from the many fires resulted in some of the worst air quality in several weeks over the state, according to the state Department of Ecology.
Smoke dispersion should improve by Wednesday, but overall air-quality improvement is expected to be gradual in most locations. The air quality in at least nine Eastern and Central Washington counties will be classified as unhealthy or very unhealthy throughout the week, the Department of Ecology said.