Deadly wildfire in Washington bears down on Twisp and nearby towns

By Sandi Soendker, Land Line editor-in-chief | Thursday, August 20, 2015

In Washington State, thousands of acres and homes are being destroyed by quick-moving wildfires. On Wednesday afternoon came the devastating news: A new fire raging along the Twisp River had claimed the lives of three firefighters and injured four more, one critically.

In Twisp, residents were stunned and heartbroken as they listened to the news and to Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement confirming the tragedy and asking the president for federal assistance.

“We’ve dealt with fire, but there’s never been anything this bad,” says OOIDA Life Member Kay Reiber of Twisp.

Kay and her husband, Okanogan County District 6 Fire Commissioner Roy Reiber, live in Twisp in the heart of the Methow Valley in north-central Washington. It’s a small town by most measures – less than a thousand residents – but the largest town in the valley.

Okanogan County is fighting 10 wildfires, forcing road closures and the full evacuation of several towns. An area along the Twisp River caught fire on Wednesday, and high winds pushed the flames quickly out of control. That’s where three firefighters died and the others injured.

Kay and Roy live north of town. Their road runs between State Road 20 (North Cascades Highway) and the Methow River.

“We are now about a mile and a half from the fire, and we are of course watching it closely,” Kay told Land Line Thursday morning. “Many of the residents have had to go, but some are still here. As of yesterday, an evacuation is in effect for much of the area. My husband wants to be here to respond to questions and do what he does as a fire commissioner – but we are packed and ready to go.”

If they do have to go, road closures are a concern, and Kay says roads out are already limited. According to Washington Department of Transportation, a stretch of SR 20 east of Twisp was closed Wednesday as fire crossed the highway and at press time remains closed with no detour. Several news outlets report the fire triggered a rock slide across the road.

Kay says the small businesses in the area, grocers and gas stations, are” giving it all” to serve the residents, trying to keep food and fuel supply lines open. She points out that it’s all delivered by truck.

“It’s quite a situation, it really is. And truckers are right in the middle of this, trucking in fuel especially,” says Kay, who drove a Class A grain truck for a number of years. “It’s not just mountains that make the roads dangerous. Truckers more or less have to run the gauntlet getting in and out of here.”

Related article:
Code of the West: Be prepared for wildfires

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