Okanogan fire 1
©Chronicle photo by Dee Camp
Fire erupts near Okanogan after lightning storm passes through at 7 p.m.

A brief, fierce lightning storm touched off a fast-moving fire that is threatening structures, the Okanogan County Sheriff's Office's communications system and crops in the Cameron Lake Road area near Okanogan.

The fire began around 7 p.m. July 1 as a lightning storm moved through the valley. It brought scattered rain showers to the mid-valley area and hail to the south end of the county.

As of about 9 p.m., the fire had burned from the ridge above Okanogan on the Colville Indian Reservation and west toward town. Okanogan Bingo Casino was evacuated, said sheriff Frank Rogers.

He said he and undersheriff Joe Somday watched the blaze jump Highway 97 near the casino and called for a fire truck. One responded and doused that part of the blaze, he said.

Okanogan fire 2
©Chronicle photo by Alex Paul
Fire crews from up and down the valley converged on several homes threatened by fire, as well as the Okanogan Airport

Firefighters from Okanogan, Malott, Omak, Riverside, Fire District No. 8 and the Methow Valley responded, as did the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Rogers said his biggest concern is for sheriff's office communications equipment atop Jackass Butte.

"It's moving up the back side where the repeaters are," said Rogers in a telephone interview. "If we lose those, we lose 911 and everything."

The fire burned west, then the wind shifted and it headed east. The wind also pushed the blaze north and farther east to the Cameron Lake Road area. The Okanogan Legion Airport is OK so far, he said.

Highway 97 is closed between the Cameron Lake Road and south access/Highway 20 intersection, Rogers said.

People all over Okanogan turned out on sidewalks and decks to watch the fire, and many drove to higher vantage points along B&O Road, the Okanogan Cemetery, Orchard Grade and the new Chukar Ridge development.

Flames shot high into the air, exploding at times as they hit electrical transmission equipment.

Power was knocked out to the Twisp and Carlton areas, and the east side of Okanogan, according to an Okanogan County PUD spokeswoman.

Okanogan fire 3
©Chronicle photo by Al Camp
Fire lights up the night sky as it burns over a long line just outside Okanogan

"We can't even get to the lines" to fix them, because they're in the fire area, she said. An early estimate for restoring power is 12-24 hours, she added.

The fire is burning mostly sagebrush, though Rogers said wheat fields on the Townsend Ranch caught fire.

Rogers said every available deputy has been called out for traffic control, road closures and notifying residents who may be threatened by the fire.

The storm also touched off fires near Tonasket, the Chiliwist, Leader Lake and Glover Lane, Rogers said. The latter was extinguished by Okanogan firefighters and occurred just before the Jackass Butte fire erupted.

Another fire, ignited by a lightning strike the evening of June 30, continues to burn in the Rattlesnake Butte-Davis Canyon area south of Malott.

The DNR is battling that blaze, though local departments were called out July 1 for structure protection.

Old Highway 97 is closed at Monse Road in the south and near Malott to the north.