Firefighters said Sunday that reduced winds helped them gain the upper hand against fires raging across the northwest United States but expressed fears that north-central Washington could soon see explosive fire growth. The wildfires, which have spread immensely in recent weeks, now cover about 920 square miles of Washington state and have already claimed the lives of three firefighters.
Washington, normally a wet state, has seen fires following an unprecedented drought in recent months. Fire spokeswoman Suzanne Flory said there were fears the fire could spread Sunday if, as forecasted, a cap of smoke lifts from Okanogan County. When smoke lifts, humidity drops and heat rises, allowing more fires to flare up, the Associated Press reported.
The fears come just one day after the federal government accepted state Gov. Jay Inslee’s request for a federal emergency declaration to help firefighters fight blazing flames in the state’s east.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) August 22, 2015
Wildfires have been raging throughout states across the northwest for more than two months. At least 875,000 acres are now burning across the region, and in Washington, 16 separate wildfires cover more than 920 square miles.
Fires have destroyed more than 200 homes, and 12,000 houses are considered threatened by the expanding fires. Thousands of people remain under evacuation orders of varying levels, as Washington issued a Red Flag Warning on Saturday for many counties, warning air quality had reached unhealthy levels.
Three firefighters were killed and four others were injured Wednesday as they battled fires in Okanogan county. Another firefighter remains in critical condition with burns covering 60 percent of his body.
— Alex Pache (@PACHETAG) August 23, 2015
Despite fears that the fires could spread, firefighters have seen some success in recent days. Winds calmed Saturday, slowing the spread of the fires, and officials said the flames were moving away from population centers in some counties.
A new firefighting mobilization center was set up Sunday at the Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, Washington, following the federal emergency declaration. The new center will be a staging area for 20 large fire engines and 10 water tankers. Assistance is reportedly coming from Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado.