Crews mount direct attack on huge Washington wildfire

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Updated: July 24, 2014, 12:20 PM

 

6 new range fires burning in eastern Oregon

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Six new range fires are burning in eastern Oregon, ignited by lightning storms that moved across the region.

Meanwhile, the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland says the fires touched off by the last string of thunderstorms a week and a half ago are closer to containment, and some firefighters are being demobilized to fight blazes in Washington state.

Spokeswoman Carol Connolly says others are being assigned to the new fires on the Vale District of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

A total of 17 large fires are now burning across 933 square miles of forests and range in central and eastern Oregon.

The six new fires range from one-and-a-half square miles to 14 square miles. Nine structures are threatened, but no evacuation alerts have been issued.

OMAK — Cooler temperatures on Thursday allowed firefighters to directly attack a massive wildfire that has destroyed about 150 homes in north-central Washington.

Fire spokesman Pete Buist said the biggest wildfire in the state’s history was 52 percent contained.

Firefighters were attacking the actual perimeter of the fire Thursday, thanks to temperatures forecast to reach only the 70s and wet conditions left over from Wednesday’s thunderstorms.

“We are able to go direct, and we are doing that while we have the opportunity,” Buist said. “We are making lots of progress.”

Buist said earlier in the week that crews could not get close to the perimeter because of high temperatures and strong winds.

“Our only choice was to drop back and let the fire come to them (firefighters),” he said.

However, the weather is forecast to get hot and dry over the next few days.

The Carlton Complex of fires remained at nearly 400 square miles, or 250,489 acres, on Thursday. It has burned about 150 homes. The wildfire is being fought by about 2,500 people.

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.

Helicopters help out

The Washington National Guard is helping fight the fires with four Blackhawk helicopters based at the Omak airport and two Chinook helicopters in Leavenworth, said Major Rebeccah Martinazzi.

The guard has dropped about 650,000 gallons of water on the Carlton Complex since it started, said Capt. Joseph Siemandel on Thursday.

“This fire is a lot more wild than the fires we’ve been over before,” said National Guard Sgt. Mark Logan. “This one’s very unpredictable.”

The Carlton Complex 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.

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.

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.