At least 24 homes and about four square miles have burned in a wildfire in the Wenatchee area.
WENATCHEE — Diane Reed stood amid the still-smoldering ash and rubble of what used to be the family home Monday in the affluent Broadview subdivision northwest of town.
“It reminds me of a war zone,” said Reed, a substitute teacher and mother of two girls.
A pickup on the property looked like a missile had landed on it.
“Was this where the closet was?” asked her daughter Erin Reed, 13. She walked around with girlfriends from the neighborhood. They hugged.
“This is where I grew up,” she said to them, and to herself.
The Reeds’ home was destroyed in what one official called a wind-driven “firestorm” that by Monday evening had scorched 3,000 acres on the outskirts of Wenatchee and roared through two nearby subdivisions, burning 24 homes, a scattering of outbuildings and four local businesses. There were no serious injuries.
Reed, 49, said she was home Sunday evening with the family dog, Mocha, a chocolate Lab, when she saw smoke in the distance around 5 p.m.
An hour later, police were at the door announcing a Level 2 emergency evacuation notice: Be ready to go on a moment’s notice.
Reed recalled it was not the first time she’d lived through a Level 2 notice. There was even a Level 3 once — meaning “get out now!” — but she had stayed.
Not this time. At 7:30 p.m., when the evacuation order came, she and Mocha were piling into the family SUV and heading out. She had her laptop and a couple of personal items.
The girls had been with their father, Bill Reed. They came back to town Monday to survey the damage.
Erin and her big sister, Abby, 15, walked around, trying to comprehend it all: everything gone, including family memories stored in a home computer hard drive.
“It had like 6,000-plus pictures. Everything from when I was 1,” said Abby Reed.
Driving around the curving roads of the Broadview subdivision, it was evident how fickle the Sleepy Hollow Fire had been. The home to the south of the Reeds was intact with a green manicured lawn.
Across the street, the only thing standing of a neighbor’s home was a stone archway.
Diane Reed figured her home was worth $475,000, but some homes were valued at up to $1.5 million. One of the first things she did Monday morning was call her insurance company.
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Reed said she and the girls will stay with her mom, who lives in Wenatchee, or the girls may go to their father’s home in Chelan.
Fire crews spent Monday dousing hot spots in areas already scorched by the fire, while keeping an eye on winds that reached 15 to 20 mph Monday evening. Some areas remained under evacuation orders, while containment was about 10 percent late Monday night.
At its peak, several hundred residents were forced to flee, many with only the clothes on their backs, according to emergency-services officials.
More than 150 residents spent Sunday night in the Eastmont High School gymnasium, said Mike Dingle, with neighboring Douglas County’s emergency management team.
The fire struck suddenly and moved fast through dried grasses and brush, driven by evening winds and high temperatures that are making for similar tinderbox conditions throughout the state, but particularly on the parched east side of the Cascade Mountains, which is struggling with drought.
Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett said the cause of the fire was not immediately known and is under investigation.
The National Weather Service reported some lightning in the area Sunday afternoon.
The Weather Service on Monday said winds would continue through the evening, easing into the early morning.
The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise listed nearly 80 major fires burning in the West.
Other large fires burning in Washington include the lightning-caused Paradise Fire in Olympic National Park, where more than 1,000 acres of heavy timber have burned; the 3,000-acre Saddle Lake Fire southeast of Wenatchee and the 2,400-acre Les Blair Fire near Kennewick.
In Wenatchee, Washington State Patrol Trooper Darren Wright said firefighters late Monday were “in a holding pattern waiting to see what the weather does next.”
Meanwhile, at the fire station on Easy Street, a computer-aided dispatch board on view showed there were new brush fires in Orondo, Mansfield and Waterville in neighboring Douglas County.
“We’re surrounded by fires but 70 percent of our firefighters are volunteers … They’re exhausted,” said Chelan Fire District No. 1 spokeswoman Kay McKellar.
High winds on Monday morning caused the fire to leapfrog into Wenatchee’s warehouse district, damaging the Blue Bird Inc. fruit warehouse and resulting in several explosions and an ammonia leak that prompted officials to order residents to remain indoors. The warehouse uses ammonia for cold-storage.
The warning was lifted around noon after the escaping ammonia had dissipated.
Another building in the warehouse district north of Wenatchee, Michelsen Packaging Co., was also damaged by fire.
Among the 155 evacuees who spent Sunday night at Eastmont High School was a distraught 3-year-old boy forced from his home by the fast-approaching flames of the Sleepy Hollow Fire.
The boy arrived at the evacuation shelter with his parents and sister, extremely worried about his family’s home, said Dingle of Douglas County emergency management.
“I sat him on my knee and asked him, ‘Who is the most important person here?’ And I had him hold his finger out,” Dingle said Monday afternoon. “I touched his finger and told him, ‘You are. Houses can be fixed.’ Then I gave him a fist bump and a high-five and a Teddy bear, and he was OK.
“It’s hard to explain to a 3-year-old that he is what matters,” he said.
Annie Canfield, 80, her daughter, granddaughter and three great-grandchildren had packed up about an hour earlier.
“I can’t wait to get in my own bed,” said her daughter Mickey Sanwald, a resident of Maple Street who had been brought to the shelter by ambulance due to chronic health issues.
“I didn’t sleep at all last night.”