Washington state Governor Jay Inslee asked President Barack Obama to declare a federal emergency in the state to fight the wildfires, which killed three firefighters and injured at least three, including one critically, in north-central Washington Wednesday. More than 100 wildfires have spread across over 1.1 million acres in the western states of Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Washington and California.
Inslee’s request was sent to Obama through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and said, according to USA Today: "I was just told that three firefighters died while battling the Twisp fire and four were injured," adding: "My heart breaks over the loss of life. I know all Washington joins me and Trudi in sending our prayers to the families of these brave firefighters. They gave their lives to protect others."
The men were killed fighting a wildfire near the towns of Twisp and Winthrop. The winds shifted to turn back on the fighters, who were dealing with another small new blaze at the time, NBC News reported. About 1,000 residents from both the towns were ordered to evacuate immediately as the 50-acre fire, that began about eight miles west of Twisp, soon spread to 1,500 acres, NBC reported, citing the state’s Department of Natural Resources. The fires in Washington state have destroyed over 50 homes, 60 other structures and have spread over 235,000 acres, CNN reported.
"It was a hellstorm up here," Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers told Spokane’s KXLY-TV, talking about the deaths near Twisp, according to the Associated Press, adding: "The fire was racing and the winds were blowing in every direction and then it would shift. ... It was tough on 'em up here."
Eli Hamblet with the Okanogan County Department of Emergency Management, said, according to CNN: “There are some outlying resort hotels being evacuated, too, and everyone is going to either Brewster or Omak because the Washington Pass is closed because of the fire.”
There is also an ongoing wildfire near the Okanogan Complex in Okanogan County, where the blaze has spread across 31,000 acres, with only 20 percent of it contained, NBC News reported. About 200 residents in the Conconully town in Washington state were earlier ordered to evacuate.
Another five-fire blaze has engulfed nearly 70,000 acres in the Chelan Complex, where about 50 percent has been contained, NBC News reported, citing the commanders there. "We're really concerned about that weather. Whenever you have Red Flag Warnings and you have the instability you're going to have in the atmosphere. With the way fuels are right now, both the live fuels and dead fuels are all extremely dry," Kale Casey, a spokesman for the joint incident team in Chelan, told KING 5 News, a local NBC affiliate. "We've had no break in the hot, dry weather. We're going to see probably some impressive fire behavior in the next couple days."
In California, over 10,000 firefighters were battling 16 wildfires, CNN reported Wednesday, adding that the biggest of these was the River Complex Fire, which was triggered by lightning. It had burnt 45,477 acres in northwestern California and was contained only 20 percent. The area in and around Shasta-Trinity National Forest in Northern California also witnessed three separate multi-fire complexes, spread across over 163,000 acres. Temperatures reportedly soared over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for the third straight day.
The CNN report added that about 200 active military personnel will help fight wildfires in the western states, making it the first time since 2006 that soldiers from Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington were deployed for such an activity.