- Associated Press - Sunday, August 16, 2015

CHELAN, Wash. (AP) - Fire crews using air tankers, helicopters and bulldozers on Sunday were attacking several large fires burning in the Chelan area that have destroyed more than 50 structures and threatened many more homes.

More fire crews, including from the Washington National Guard, are being mobilized to fight six fires burning in the Chelan area of central Washington, fire incident spokesman Wayne Patterson said Sunday.

Together, the Reach, Wolverine and other blazes have scorched more than 155 square miles, forced about 1,500 residents to flee their homes and caused power outages.

“Confidently we can say 30 to 50 homes have been destroyed,” not including outbuildings and other structures that have burned, Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett told The Associated Press on Sunday. “I don’t think we’ll really know for a few more days. The numbers are likely to climb.”

“I’ve never seen homes lost like this,” Burnett said, describing visiting neighborhoods and seeing homes charred to the ground and fire so hot that it melted cars and other equipment.

“One of the biggest fears is that we still have potentially a month or more of this,” he said, of the fire season.

Patterson said air tankers have established lines to keep the flames from reaching downtown Chelan, a popular central Washington resort town. Helicopters have been dipping into Lake Chelan to pull up water to battle blazes north of the lake.

Lighter winds Sunday could help the more than 700 people battling the complex of fires.

“We’re able to start taking the battle to the fire rather than playing defense,” Patterson said.

The Chelan Public Utility District restored power to many of the more than 9,000 customers who were without power Saturday after the fire destroyed more than 30 poles supporting transmission lines. By Sunday morning, about 2,000 customers remained without power because of significant damage to equipment and active fires, the utility said.

The hospital in Chelan evacuated some of its patients to a hospital in Wenatchee, 50 miles south, but the emergency room remained open, Chelan County Emergency Management officials said. Several nursing homes and assisted-living centers also chose to evacuate, officials said.

As crews hoped to make progress Sunday, people dealt with the scope of the damage.

Terri Raffetto was at a community center that had been converted into a shelter in Entiat, about 20 miles south of Chelan.

She said she fled her trailer Sunday with her two dogs as flames approached.

“Completely destroyed,” Raffetto told the Seattle Times.

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