Rain fails to extinguish huge Washington wildfire

Obama declares Washington wildfire emergency

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Updated: July 23, 2014, 9:57 PM

 

Fire season in West expected to get more intense

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Despite widespread drought in the West, wildfires have burned less than half the 10-year average area so far this summer.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said Wednesday that largely has been a matter of luck, with the hot, windy weather known as “red flag” days not lining up with the lighting strikes that start fires, particularly in California.

But he says that is changing. Eighteen large fires are burning in the Northwest with intensities not normally seen until August.

Firefighters on Wednesday were chasing 25 new fires ignited by thunderstorms moving across Northern California, Oregon and Washington.

Meanwhile, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report warning climate change is contributing to bigger and longer fire seasons, and new homes in forests are driving up firefighting costs.

SPOKANE — Rain and hail fell Wednesday on the largest wildfire in the state’s history. But there wasn’t enough water to extinguish the flames.

“It was like the judgment day,” fire spokeswoman Kris Erikson said of the intense thunderstorm. “It was major, but short.

“Will it put the fire out? No.”

But the storm raised humidity in the area of the fire and prevented it from growing much, Erikson said.

The Carlton Complex stands at more than 250,000 acres, or nearly 400 square miles, and it’s being fought by about 2,500 people.

“Today we have not seen active fire behavior,” fire spokesman Andrew Sandri said.

But lightning could spark new fires in the parched region, Sandri said. And all the moisture could lead to flash floods because so much ground vegetation has been lost.

The fire remains at 16 percent contained, as crews concentrate on strengthening existing fire lines, Sandri said.

Two other major fires are burning in north-central Washington.

The Chiwaukum Complex near Leavenworth has burned 12,225 acres, is 10 percent contained, and has 1,000 firefighters on the scene. The Mills Canyon fire remains at 22,571 acres and is 90 percent contained.

The Carlton Complex has burned about 150 homes and is blamed for one death after a man died of a heart attack while hauling water and digging a fire line to protect his home.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama on Wednesday declared a state of emergency in Washington because of the fires. The declaration authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to coordinate disaster relief and help state and local agencies with equipment and resources.

“These additional resources will significantly help our efforts to restore power to thousands of people affected by these fires,” Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said. “I appreciate his prompt response and partnership in helping our state.”

Inslee spoke with the president during his visit to the state Tuesday.

The governor also requested additional federal resources, including assistance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help with assessment, planning and installation of emergency power generators to restore power to facilities critical to the well-being of fire-damaged communities. These include water and wastewater treatment systems and other municipal facilities.

Inslee declared a state of emergency on July 15 in the 20 counties of eastern Washington as a result of wildfires. The governor amended the proclamation on Monday to include a temporary outdoor burn ban in that part of the state. The ban is effective through Friday.

At more than 250,000 acres, the Carlton Complex is larger than the 1902 Yacolt Burn, which consumed 238,920 acres in southwestern Washington and was the state’s largest recorded forest fire, according to HistoryLink.org, an online resource of Washington state history.

The Wenatchee World reported Wednesday that two area residents were arrested on suspicion of arson this weekend, accused of setting two separate back burns that got out of control, with one of them almost trapping a fire crew in a canyon. The back burns were lighted by men trying to save property, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said. Back burns are secondary fires lit on purpose to burn fuels in the path of an oncoming fire.