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100 guardsmen on standby to fight fires in Washington

Up to 1,000 more could receive additional fire training

Jul. 21, 2014 - 07:42PM   |  
The Washington National Guard continues to provide support July 21 to the people of north central Washington who have been affected by the Carlton Complex Fire.
The Washington National Guard continues to provide support July 21 to the people of north central Washington who have been affected by the Carlton Complex Fire. (Sgt. 1st Class Jason Kriess / National Guard)
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A line of firefighters stands guard July 18 as they allow fire to burn to the road but keep an eye out to prevent embers from crossing in Winthrop, Wash. (Elaine Thompson / AP)

SPOKANE, WASH. — Calmer winds and cooler temperatures were allowing firefighters to go on the offensive Monday against a destructive wildfire that has charred hundreds of square miles of terrain in Washington state and is the largest in state history.

The Carlton Complex of fires in north-central Washington has burned about 379 square miles, fire spokesman Andrew Sanbri said Monday.

“There is optimism in the air, but we don’t want to give the impression that all is good,” Sanbri said. “Things are improving.”

The fire was just 2 percent contained Monday.

At 243,000 acres, the Carlton Complex was 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.

Firefighters planned to aggressively protect some houses near Libby Creek on Monday, while burning away potential fuel on its north side, Sanbri said. Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers estimates that 150 homes have been destroyed already, but suspects that number could be higher. The fire is being blamed for one death.

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

The forecast for Monday and Tuesday called for lighter winds and lower temperatures, said Spokane-based National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Koch.

Then on Wednesday a “vigorous” front is expected to cover Washington, bringing rain to much of the state. But it will also bring lightning, he added.

“The benefits of the system are still up in the air,” Koch said. “We may get some rain where we need it, but we may also experience some lightning that could cause some new ignitions.”

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

His deputies haven’t been able to search parts of the county where homes are spread miles apart.

Rogers said one man has died of an apparent heart attack while fighting the fire near his home. Rob Koczewski, 67, was stricken on Saturday while he and his wife were hauling water and digging fire lines near their home. Rogers said Koczewski was a retired Washington State Patrol trooper and U.S. Marine.

There are more than 1,600 firefighters battling the flames, assisted by more than 100 fire engines, helicopters dropping buckets of water and planes spreading flame retardant, Sanbri said.

Many towns in the scenic Methow Valley remain without power and have limited landline and cellphone service. Okanogan County Public Utility District officials told KREM that fully restoring power to the area could take weeks.

Inslee said Friday about 50 fires were burning in Washington, which has been wracked by hot, dry weather, gusting winds and lightning. About 2,000 firefighters were working in the eastern part of the state.

The Washington state Department of Natural Resources has said firefighters from New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are coming to the state to help.

Early Saturday, authorities announced that they are bringing in two military air tankers from Wyoming to help fight wildfires in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.

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