Washington Wildfires, Now Over 400 Sq. Miles, Are the Largest in State History

"In our district we could see this go clear to the first of November"

In Washington, a series of fires raging in the north-central part of the state that earlier killed three firefighters has now grown to become the largest in state history, fire information officer Rick Isaacson said Monday.

The lightning-caused Okanogan Complex of fires were measured overnight at just over 400 square miles. That's slightly more than last year's Carlton Complex blazes, which also were sparked by lightning and burned in Okanogan County.

"I'd like to set some different records," Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said Monday.

Last year's fires were grouped closer together and destroyed some 300 homes, Rogers said. This year, wildfires are burning across the large county and officials have no idea how many homes have burned.

Firefighters from as far as Australia and New Zealand have arrived in the West as the wildfires raging in Washington state and elsewhere in the region taxed resources and led officials to put out a wide call for help.

The Okanogan Complex of fires grew by more than 26 square miles Sunday and is expected to spread even more in coming days.

Isaacson did not have a containment estimate, but there is very little containment on the wildfire.

Isaacson called the record unfortunate and said the fire could burn until rain and snow season arrives.

"It's only Aug. 24th," Isaacson said. "In our district we could see this go clear to the first of November."

Rogers noted that many of the fires are burning in heavily timbered areas on steep terrain.

"There's no way to fight them," Rogers said.

About 1,250 people are battling the Okanogan Complex, Isaacson said. Last week, three firefighters were killed and four injured when they were overtaken while trying to escape the flame.

About 70 fire managers from Australia and New Zealand arrived in Boise, Idaho, and were scheduled to receive protective gear Monday before heading out to fight fires burning in the West.

In Washington, resources were so strained that officials earlier took the unprecedented step of seeking volunteers to help fight the flames. Fire officials over the weekend began providing basic fire training to volunteers who have machinery like backhoes and bulldozers so they can help dig fire lines.

Sixteen large wildfires are burning across central and eastern Washington, covering more than 920 square miles. More than 200 homes have been destroyed, and more than 12,000 homes and thousands of other structures remain threatened.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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