Created on Monday, 21 July 2014 Written by NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS, Associated Press
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — 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.
The Carlton Complex of fires in north-central Washington had 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."
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.
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.
Gov. Jay 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.
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, Inslee said.
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.