With utility poles charred and transmission lines down in the trail of the Carlton complex wildfire, about 7,000 Okanogan County customers remained without power Wednesday, according to the Okanogan Public Utility District.
And the thunderstorms passing through North Central Washington, as well as logistical issues, hampered efforts to restore electricity to communities, some of which have been without power since this past Thursday.
Crews likely wouldn’t be able to restore power to more homes Thursday, said Dan Boettger, director of regulatory and environmental affairs for the district.
“We’re hoping still to get that power restored by this weekend,” Boettger said. “We hope before that.”
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The fire, which has destroyed more than 150 homes and cut power to Twisp, Winthrop and Pateros along with other areas, remains active and unpredictable. Intermittent rainfall also has slowed efforts by utility crews to restore electricity, Boettger added.
There is also a shortage of flaggers to accompany the utility trucks working to restore more than 300 miles’ worth of downed transmission lines, he said.
Meanwhile, the region came under a new a flash-flood warning Wednesday, and officials worried that hillsides stripped of vegetation by the fires could lead to mudslides in the region.
Residents near Highway 20 and in the Methow and Okanogan valleys were advised to “take immediate precautions to protect life and property,” according to one National Weather Service alert issued Wednesday afternoon.
One small mudslide did occur Wednesday on Entiat Road in Chelan County, but the county emergency-management office there said it was not in a fire-related area and that it was quickly cleared off the road.
Firefighters spent Wednesday trying to keep the fire south of Highway 20, which runs from Okanogan west to Twisp and Winthrop, according to the federal fire-tracking website Inciweb.nwcg.gov. The fire was 52 percent contained, according to the website, up from 2 percent Monday. It has burned more than 250,000 acres — about 391 square miles — making it the largest recorded wildfire in state history.
The continuing flames so close to burned areas have also slowed the ability of emergency responders to calculate how much property damage the blaze caused, according to Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for Gov. Jay Inslee.
“It could be days; it might be a little bit longer,” Smith said.
The damage estimates are necessary to determine whether the state will qualify for an emergency disaster declaration that would provide direct assistance to people who lost homes in the wildfire.
President Obama signed an emergency declaration Wednesday authorizing federal coordination of disaster relief and to assist state and local agencies with equipment and resources.
Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said he has people out looking to identify more homes destroyed. While he expects the number to rise higher than the 154 buildings now confirmed, Rogers says he likely won’t have an update until later in the week.
As for the rain, Rogers cautiously welcomed it. “I’ll take the rain,” Rogers said, “as long as it’s not too much.”
Joe O’Sullivan: 206-464-2201 or firstname.lastname@example.org