Washington wildfire largest in state history

A complex of fires in north-central Washington has burned about 379 square miles — more than four times the size of Seattle — making it the largest wildfire in the state since record-keeping started.

Sunday's official estimate put the wildfire burning in north-central Washington at more than 370 square miles, more than four times the area of Seattle, at 83.9 square miles.

The Carlton Complex Fire is now larger than the Yacolt Burn, which consumed 238,920 acres in southwestern Washington in 1902 and is the largest recorded forest fire in state history, according to HistoryLink.org, an online resource of Washington state history. The Yacolt Burn killed 38 people.

In all, some 200 homes have been lost in the Carlton Complex Fire and 1,200 homes have been evacuated in 12 towns. Nearly 300,000 acres had been scorched as of early Monday and the fire is only 2% contained.

Firefighters were hampered by the loss of electricity in the area, thanks to downed power lines and poles, which hurt communications. There was no estimate on when utilities would be restored.

Electricity and water services are out to parts of Brewster, Pateros, Twisp and Winthrop. Crews there said it could take weeks for power to be restored. Roughly 7,000 people were still without power Monday in Okanogan County.

The fire has created smoky conditions and reduced air quality in much of eastern Washington and northern Idaho.

Forecasters say calmer winds and cooler temperatures are headed for the fire-scorched region, conditions that could help the more than 3,500 personnel fighting the fire.

A slight chance of rain is expected Tuesday, with rain more likely Wednesday. With the rain will come a chance of lightning and more fires, according to KING-TV meteorologists.

The Carlton Complex Fire started as four smaller fires sparked by lightning July 14. Those fires merged into a 28-square-mile fire by Thursday night before expanding to nearly 336 square miles by Saturday.

Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said homes were lost in the areas of Pateros, Malott, Alta Lake, Chiliwist and Star Road.

Meanwhile the Chiwaukum Complex Fire in Leavenworth, Wash., has burned 11,051 acres and is 10% contained, officials said, while the Mills Canyon Fire has claimed 22,751 acres and is 75% contained.

A total of 100 National Guard troops were on standby, and up to 1,000 more in Yakima could receive additional fire training, said Karina Shagren, spokeswoman for the state's Military Department. Active-duty military could be called in as well, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said.

The Washington National Guard has been pushing back against the flames with four Blackhawk helicopters, dumping more than 400,000 gallons of water. There are nearly 1,400 firefighters battling the flames, assisted by more than 100 fire engines.

Two military air tankers from Wyoming have been stationed in Boise, Idaho, to help fight wildfires in the Pacific Northwest.

The Air Expeditionary Group said Monday that two C-130's from the Wyoming Air National Guard's 153rd Airlift Wing haven't been called up to fight a particular fire, but will be flown throughout the region as needed.

The planes are equipped with the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, or MAFFS, and can drop 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in less than five seconds, officials said.

The Okanogan County sheriff's office said one man died Sunday of an apparent heart attack while fighting the Carlton Complex wildfire near his home.

Rob Koczewski, 67, was stricken Saturday while he and his wife were hauling water and digging fire lines on their property, the sheriff's office said.

Rogers says Koczewski was a retired Washington State Patrol trooper and U.S. Marine. A friend said he had a history of heart issues.

Contributing: Associated Press


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