Share story

As firefighters continue to battle the massive Carlton complex wildfire, some fire crews are preparing to start a controlled burn Sunday morning just outside Winthrop to keep the wildfire from getting any closer to town.

The line of attack will stretch for 4 miles near Pearrygin Lake, northeast of Winthrop.

Ideal weather conditions are needed for the planned burn, said Alan Hoffmeister, spokesman for the fire-command center. The air has to have moisture, and wind has to be at a minimum to keep the burn from escalating.

“We know we have a fairly narrow window of opportunity to try to do this burning,” he said.

Winds expected to be light at the start of the two-day operation, said Hoffmeister.

The controlled burn also is considered safer than sending firefighters deeper into the rugged terrain where they risk being hit by rolling logs and rocks loosened by the fire.

Overall, the Carlton complex fire is 60 percent contained. It’s now the largest blaze in state history, at 391 square miles, and has burned 300 homes.

As of Saturday afternoon, there are no neighborhoods under evacuation, and only the Gold Creek area near Carlton is near the fire’s path and guarded by firetrucks standing by.

“It’s hard to see smoke now. Driving through the Methow Valley, the skies are blue. People are floating down the river,” Hoffmeister said.

But firefighters are wary of temperatures predicted to return to near 100 degrees Monday or Tuesday — after rain put somewhat of a damper on the fire on Thursday. Some spots are flaring again as wood dries out, Hoffmeister said.

Previously, the state’s largest fire was the 1902 Yacolt Burn, which killed 38 people and consumed about 373 square miles, or 238,920 acres, in Southwest Washington.

The Carlton complex fire, sparked by lightning, has been blamed for the death of a man who appeared to suffer a heart attack while trying to protect his property.

On Friday, officials in north-central Washington increased their estimate of burned homes from 150 to 300. Electricity was restored to towns in the scenic Methow Valley.

A DC-10 plane has been dropping red fire retardant over parched hills.

Fire crews are being reduced over the weekend, from the 2,932 personnel in the region Friday night. Some have reached a 14-day limit and must rest or be demobilized; in other cases, the fire is corralled enough that firetrucks to protect structures are no longer needed, said Hoffmeister.

There have been some incidents of looting, and a couple of recreational vehicles were stolen, reported KING 5, which interviewed pistol-carrying ranch hands who vowed to shoot any criminals who show up. Officials have received one confirmed report of looting, Hoffmeister said.

Meanwhile in Oregon, firefighters continued to make progress on several fires.

The nation’s largest wildfire — the 618-square-mile Buzzard complex in Eastern Oregon, 45 miles northeast of Burns — is 95 percent contained. The Ochoco complex, which consists of four fires that burned on 10,000 acres east of Prineville, is now 69 percent contained. And the Bridge 99 complex north of Sisters is 74 percent contained. The closure of the Pacific Crest Trail in that area has been rescinded.