TWISP — A new wildfire in north-central Washington forced the evacuation of about 200 homes Friday and closed part of State Route 20 as it burned near a command post set up for firefighters who continue battling the state’s largest fire.
Officials ordered the evacuations as the new fire burned intensely in high afternoon winds. The Sun Mountain Lodge, a luxury resort near Winthrop, was also evacuated as a precaution.
Janet Pearce, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said some structures had burned. It wasn’t known if they were homes or outbuildings.
The fire started around 2:30 p.m. west of Highway 20, about halfway between Twisp and Winthrop, Pearce said. Officials estimated it to be 200 to 300 acres, and Pearce said it spread quickly in high winds.
The fire burned close to a command post at Liberty Bell High School, where firefighters working on the Carlton Complex have been camping in tents. Crews from the Carlton Complex responded.
“We were a little nervous, but the fire’s gone around us so now we’re fine,” said Alan Hoffmeister, a spokesman for the Carlton Complex. “We sent over quite an air force of helicopters and air tankers to drop retardant. They really pounded it.”
Pearrygin Lake State Park was ordered evacuated and will remain closed at least through the weekend. Highway 20 was open to local residents only between Winthrop and Twisp.
Fire officials said 20 mph winds with thunderstorms moved through the area Friday afternoon, increasing fire activity in some parts of the Carlton Complex, especially along the northern edge of the fire, north of Winthrop.
The Carlton Complex has burned 395 square miles and destroyed about 300 homes and is the largest fire in state history. The cost of battling the blaze is now $42.6 million — by far the costliest fire now burning in the nation.
“None of what we’re doing here is inexpensive,” said Pete Buist, a spokesman for the Carlton Complex in Okanogan County. “The DC-10 we used to drop retardant for half a day cost more than most fires can cost.”
The next costliest fire nationally is the Chiwaukum Creek Fire northwest of Leavenworth, which has cost nearly $20 million in suppression costs so far.
There are currently 24 helicopters and more than 3,000 fire personnnel working on the Carlton Complex. Three of the six national incident management teams currently working fires in the U.S. are assigned to Chiwaukum and Carlton.