Search-and-rescue crews scoured portions of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest this weekend for a high-ranking member of the Seattle Fire Department who disappeared while hunting.

Deputy Chief Jay Schreckengost was last heard from on Tuesday, when he texted his family that he would be scouting for elk, according to the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office. He didn’t return to a rented cabin that night, and the next day his pickup was found about three miles north of State Route 410 in the Cliffdell area.

Officials formed an extensive search effort from the site of his truck, with volunteers and public-safety officers from at least seven counties. Dozens of Seattle Fire Department staff members volunteered, along with members of Schreckengost’s family.

“There’s a lot of emotions. It’s been a really tough event, but we remain hopeful,” Seattle Fire spokesperson Kristin Tinsley said Sunday. “Jay’s an experienced hunter. He’s an avid outdoorsman. He has that prepared mindset. We’re thinking that he’s out there with supplies.”

By midday Sunday, the rescue teams had not found evidence they were onto Schreckengost’s trail, said Kittitas County Sheriff’s inspector Chris Whitsett. Some searchers had found items they thought might belong to him, but family members said they were not his, he said.

“We are continuing to be hopeful,” Whitsett said. “We are continuing to view this as a rescue mission.”


Mountain rescue teams, six K-9 teams and others fanned out across several square miles of “extremely rugged terrain” in snowy conditions over recent days, according to a Facebook post by the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office, which is overseeing the search. A Chinook helicopter was deployed from Joint Base Lewis-McChord to assist. More than 100 people were searching over the weekend.

The terrain is rocky, with lots of ravines and steep inclines. Elevation rises roughly 2,500 feet over just three miles, from the base camp at Whistlin’ Jack’s Lodge, to the forward search base, Whitsett said.

“The topographic maps that our searchers are using are packed tight with lines,” he said. “It’s steep, hard country.”

Officials asked members of the public to stay clear of the search area.

Deputy Chief Jay Schreckengost (Seattle Fire Department)

Schreckengost, 56, has been with the Seattle Fire Department for 36 years. He worked his way up from the ranks of firefighter, and he now is a deputy chief in the Operations Division.

“The people up here that are searching are really invested in the search effort,” Tinsley said. “We’re not just colleagues with Jay, but we’re lifelong friends.”

He had been scouting the steep terrain for elk Tuesday, Whitsett said, and he planned to hunt there with his son the following day, Wednesday.

Crews were expected to continue the search during daylight hours Sunday, weather permitting.