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Lightning-Caused Wildfires Destroy Buildings Around Chelan

Hundreds of people fled wildfires that surrounded the city of Chelan after multiple lightning strikes on Friday, emergency officials said.

Residents and visitors watched dramatic scenes during the day as aerial tankers and helicopters dropped fire retardant and water in attempts to stop lines of fire advancing from the south and northeast.

The fire cut power to 9,000 people in Chelan and Manson. Power was still out Saturday.

Early estimates on Saturday were that 25 buildings have been destroyed, said Bill Queen, fire information officer for the Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Incident Management Team 2. He said he didn't know how many of those were homes, outbuildings or businesses.

Four fires were burning around Chelan, he said. The one that's had the most effect is the Reach Complex, which began with several fires caused by lightning strikes on Chelan Butte south of Chelan and moved north into the city, he said. The fire later hooked east and jumped the Columbia River into Douglas County, according to the Inciweb website.

He said that at 8 a.m. Saturday there was zero containment of any of the fires.

Chelan County Emergency Management reported Saturday morning that the Reach fire had burned 2,000 acres so far. New level 3 evacuations were ordered for the Fields Point area north of Lake Chelan State Park because of a separate blaze, the First Creek Fire.

Get updates on the Chelan County Emergency Management Facebook page

A force of 478 firefighters has been working on the Wolverine Fire, which has threatened Stehekin and the retreat center of Holden Village farther up Lake Chelan, and the nearby Blankeship Fire. But Queen said many of those were moved south to tackle the Chelan fires. 

"We built a plan for the Wolverine Fire in preparation for an event like what happened yesterday," he said.

Local and state fire personnel were also battling the fires, he said, and the state fire marshal's office was sending 150 more personnel.

He said six helicopters would fight the fires Saturday and he expected three fixed-wing aircraft, including a DC-10 flying out of Moses Lake, would be available.

News teams captured dramatic images of the DC-10 dropping fire retardant on neighborhoods in Chelan on Friday.

Here's the video of us getting hit with the retardant from the DC-10. #chelanfire #liveonkomo — Eric Jensen (@EricJensenTV) August 14, 2015

Fire crews battled strong, erratic winds that drove the flames. Queen said one fire burned across the Chelan airport. The separate First Creek fire forced evacuation of Lake Chelan State Park.

Large fires were also burning near Omak and Pateros.

The forecast for Saturday in Chelan was for lighter winds, which Queen said could help firefighters. The National Weather Service predicted temperatures around 80 degrees on Saturday, with highs rising into the 90s by mid-week.

Centers have been set up to hold evacuees in Chelan, Entiat and East Wenatchee.

See a map of the Reach Complex fire area

Parts of U.S. 97 and U.S. 97A were closed overnight but reopened by Saturday afternoon. State Route 971 remained closed, as did state Route 150 from Chelan to Chelan Falls.

Earlier, Queen urged people to restrict travel to Chelan to allow firefighters room to work.

"Now is not a time to try to come to Chelan," he said. "There are still too many things going on in terms of trying to protect structures from the fire that's burning in town."

Year started with KUOW: 2015