Firefighters burn dry fuels to slow state's wildfires

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WENATCHEE (AP) — Nearly 3,000 firefighters dug lines and burned dry grass and brush in the path of several large wildfires in Eastern Washington on Thursday, aiming to better control the blazes before the weather changes and potential winds return.

Seven large complexes of fires have burned across 229 square miles of parched land east of the Cascades, where some areas have gone without any measurable rain for weeks.

Heavy smoke covered much of the region Thursday, eroding air quality but serving a positive sign of low winds and fires that weren't quite so active. Firefighters hoped to take advantage of the favorable conditions before the weather shifts again.

A high pressure system in the area was expected to lift today, and the effect is much like removing a lid from a hot pot, said Connie Mehmel, a spokeswoman for a complex of fires burning in the Wenatchee area.

Some 2,945 firefighters were assigned to the seven large fire complexes Thursday, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. Some of those crews worked through the night Wednesday to dig fire lines, protect structures and set ablaze dry fuels that could feed the fires during the heat of day.