Our Northwest

2015 already among worst wildfire years

Friday, August 21, 2015by  Jon Osterberg

wildfireJust last summer, the news media labeled the devastating Carlton Complex wildfire as the biggest in Washington history.

So where does this summer’s deadly fire season rank? It depends on how you measure it – loss of life, loss of homes, or acres burned – but by any measure, it's one of the worst.

Until last summer, the state’s biggest blaze had been the 1902 Yacolt Burn that destroyed 238,920 acres and killed 38 people.

But Yacolt pales when compared with The Big Burn, which ignited 105 years ago yesterday. It incinerated more than 3 million acres in northeastern Washington, the Idaho panhandle, and western Montana in August 1910, killing 87 people.


Plane drops fire retardant on Okanogan Complex fireAs of today, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) says the Okanogan Complex has burned 124,083 acres and claimed 36 structures. The Reach Fire near Chelan has consumed 84,855 acres and 38 structures, and communities uplake remain threatened by the First Creek Fire raging near Chelan Yacht Club, torching 1,928 acres and two homes.

The Seattle Times reports that the Chelan Complex fires, which include the Reach blaze, total a combined 134,602 acres.

And as we’re all aware, three firefighters lost their lives Wednesday battling the Twisp River Fire. 

As of Friday afternoon, more than 450,000 acres were burning. (See an interactive map of current Northwest wildfires here.) 

President Obama ordered federal aid this morning to supplement state and local firefighters.

Pacfic Northwest fire

For the first time in state history, Washington is accepting citizen volunteers to help fight fires. And the NIFC set precedent by asking this week for military help with fighting the fires.

So no matter how you gauge it, 2015 already is a huge and tragic fire season. It started early, with the Sleepy Hollow Fire burning 29 homes near Wenatchee in June. The Wolverine Fire has torched 43,000 acres and threatened Holden Village and Stehekin for weeks. 

In the past 25 years, major Washington fires include:

  • 1991 Spokane Firestorm, killed one person and destroyed 114 homes.

  • 1994 Hatchery Creek Complex, burned 19 homes near Leavenworth, jumped U.S. Highway 97, charred 43,000 acres.

  • 1994 Tyee Creek Fire, burned 135,000 acres for 33 days north of Wenatchee, destroyed 35 homes. Altogether, nearly 300,000 acres burned that summer in Chelan County alone.

  • 2001 Thirty Mile Fire in Okanogan County killed four and injured 14.

  • 2005 School Fire, burned 52,000 acres and 52 structures in Garfield County

  • 2012 Taylor Bridge Fire, destroyed 61 Kittitas County homes, hundreds of other structures, and burned 23,000 acres.

  • 2014, Carlton Complex Fire, 256,108 acres burned, 322 homes destroyed, 1 death.

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