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Chelan wildfires burn dozens of structures

Todd Quinn on Saturday grabs one of his goats that survived the firestorm that swept through his ranch Friday in the neighborhood of Antoine Creek outside of Chelan.
Todd Quinn on Saturday grabs one of his goats that survived the firestorm that swept through his ranch Friday in the neighborhood of Antoine Creek outside of Chelan. The Seattle Times

At least 1,500 people have been evacuated in the Chelan area and the city of Chelan remains without power Saturday after four fires continued to grow, wrapping around Lake Chelan’s southern end and spreading into Douglas County.

The fires are threatening hundreds of homes, and Dave Halvey of the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office said at least 40 structures already have burned, but “that is a very conservative estimate.” It was unknown how many of those are houses, but he said he expects homes along Antoine Creek and the southern lakeshore have been lost.

On Saturday afternoon, officials at Lake Chelan Community Hospital decided to evacuate, although the emergency room will remain open. Patients will be sent to be Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee.

The complex of fires is made up of the Reach Fire, First Creek fire, Antoine fire and the Cagle fire. Officials have not given a size estimate on these fires Saturday.

The Reach fire started as five small lightning fires that grew together on Chelan Butte and raced northwest along the southern edge of Chelan. Then a strong wind change Friday afternoon sent the fire east into south Chelan and across the Columbia River into Douglas County.

With temperatures in the 80s Saturday, and winds ranging from 15 to 20 mph, conditions are difficult.

Tourists were still playing in the lake, not far from where people’s homes burned to the ground.

Terri Raffetto’s home now is the small hall that is the community center in Entiat, a town 20 miles south of Chelan, set up for disaster relief by the Red Cross.

She escaped with her two dogs at sunrise Friday as the wildfire reached her trailer at a Chelan hillside.

“Completely destroyed,” she said. “It was like a bomb went off, it was so loud.”

Raffetto was talking about the lightning bolt that came down around 5 a.m. A brushfire had been a distance away. Then the wind suddenly shifted.

Raffetto, 63, used her hands to show about a 10-inch gap. That was size of the embers, she said.

“I heard the sirens, and the sheriff came down running. ‘You gotta leave, you gotta leave!’’’

She counted on her fingers the number of trailers around her that were destroyed. “One, two, three, four.”

She went over again what she saw, the black, flying objects.

“It was surreal,” she said. “It was like … it was like I was in a different country.”

Raffetto added, “I’m in shock, I tell you.”

The Cagle Fire had been on Deer Mountain two miles north of Chelan, and by Saturday afternoon, like the Reach fire, it, too, had jumped across the Columbia River into Douglas County.

The Chelan County Public Utility District said the fires have burned more than 30 power poles and all Manson, Chelan and Chelan Falls customers are without power — in all, about 9,000 people.

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