On July 14th 2014, we were driving home through a Thunderstorm and witnessed multiple lightning strikes and heard the ominous rumblings of thunder all around us. Passing through Carlton we saw a fresh spot of fire on a hillside visible from Highway 153. I was struck by the idea that this small fire might turn into something much larger if it was not put out soon. Little did I know at the time there were many more small fires started by lightning that evening. Over the course of a few days many of these small fires were fanned into a much larger complex of burning acreage that came to be known as the Carlton Complex. Starting Monday, getting big by Wednesday, we lost power on Thursday and by Friday more than 300 homes were lost to the flames. The fire would eventually cover 256,108 acres (400.2 sq mi; 1,036 km2). We had experienced a dry winter and spring and were wondering how the fire season would progress but none of us really could anticipate just how scary it would end up being.
My family and I were living on the banks of the Methow River and from our home we were witness to the Northern edge of the fires. The day that I took this photograph was July 17th. I was looking up at the hillside and hoping that this plume of smoke would not grow much larger. The very next day we lost power due to the fire going right through the transmission lines. July 18th was a very hot day that brought strong winds and little relief. I read one account that said over the course of 9 hours the fire grew by over 160,000 acres in 9 hours. About 4 acres a second. We lost power and 2 of the main routes out of our small valley were closed due to fires raging over them. Asphalt being melted in places due to extreme heat. We were inundated with smoke and heat and didn’t know what was happening hour to hour. Rumors were flying as to whole towns being destroyed and multiple evacuation levels changing rapidly. Whole areas evacuated and some obliterated. No one really knew what was going to come of all of it and would there be anything left by the time the fires went out. We were all on alert to leave at a moments notice and many were prompted to do just that, in some cases leaving seconds before buildings burned behind them.
We would end up leaving the Methow Valley with two trucks packed with our most precious belongings. A mini covered wagon train headed for Idaho and a new beginning. We had been planning a move this summer, and the fires hastened our departure. It was really sad to leave our home in this way and we regret not having more time to say goodbye……
“The Carlton Complex, covering 256,108 acres (400.2 sq mi; 1,036 km2) as of August 11, 2014, began as four separate lightning-caused fires on July 14 in the Methow River valley of Okanogan County: the Cougar Flat, French Creek, Gold Hike, and Stokes fires. These fires merged and rapidly spread southeast on July 17, burning approximately 300 homes in and around the towns of Pateros and Malott as well as in more rural areas. The communities of Brewster, Carlton, and Methow were also threatened by fire. Power was lost to the communities of Twisp and Winthrop. Road closures included Washington State Route 20 east of Twisp towards Loup Loup Pass, Washington State Route 153 between Twisp and Pateros, and U.S. Route 97 between Pateros and Brewster. Rain slowed the fire on July 24, allowing crews to reach 60% containment by July 26. A new fire started along Highway 20 south of Winthrop on August 1.
The Carlton Complex is now the largest wildfire in Washington state’s recorded history, surpassing the 1902 Yacolt Burn. One death, caused by a heart attack, has been blamed on the fire. Fire fighting efforts included nearly 3,000 personnel and numerous aircraft, including a DC-10 Air Tanker.”