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Wildfire Town Meeting Grows Tense Over Missed Evacuation Notices

Courtney Flatt

In north-central Washington, fire crews aided by cooler temperatures and calmer winds are going on the offensive against several sprawling wildfires. Incident commanders of the region’s biggest and most destructive wildfire briefed residents in Omak and Brewster Sunday night.

About 100 people ventured out into the smoke to meet at the high school in the Columbia River town of Brewster. The so-called Carlton Complex wildfire burned right to the edge of this small orchard town and claimed 35 homes in the neighboring town Pateros.

Tensions rose toward the end of the meeting when several residents said they did not receive timely evacuation notices late last week.

Homeowner Brenda Riggan says she only had moments to evacuate her house. She says her family barely escaped with their lives.

“We were not notified of the fire. We had no idea. And within a matter of minutes, it was upon us,” Riggan fumed.

The problem, responded Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers: The fire was just too big, and there weren’t enough officers on duty to keep up with the rapidly spreading blaze.

Riggan says she thinks this meeting was a good first step to answering the community’s questions.