Washington governor declares wildfire emergency
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a wildfire emergency as several large fires burned in the state and forecasters predicted more thunderstorms and high winds.
“Numerous wildfires across Washington pose a serious threat to homes, infrastructure, businesses and natural resources … and our firefighting resources have begun to grow scarce,” Gregoire said, following a helicopter tour of the state’s largest fire, the Tripod complex in north-central Washington.
The proclamation frees state agencies to spend money and resources to help local jurisdictions fight wildfires.
“Those are the sorts of things that help us in terms of making it easier to get resources,” said Ray Steiger, information officer at the Columbia County fire in Washington.
Lightning-caused fires in Columbia County cover 34,000 acres and have destroyed two homes and 10 outbuildings, said Lisa Caldwell, an emergency management official.
An unknown number of residents along a roughly five-mile stretch of the Tucannon River were told to evacuate in late August. The governor flew over the 200-square-mile Tripod complex in a helicopter as flames leaped 100 feet into the air. Nearly 3,000 firefighters are assigned to those fires, which were burning between Winthrop and Conconully and were 40 percent contained.
“It’s very rugged terrain,” Gregoire said. “The firefighters go in and put up a line, and … are doing a great job of thus far being able to protect the community. … We’re just hoping now the weather cooperates.”
However, the forecast called for more thunderstorms, high winds and low humidity after lightning started several new fires in tinder-dry, bug-killed timber in the Okanogan and Wenatchee national forests.
In Oregon, wildfires were burning on more than 100,000 acres of high desert in sparsely populated Harney County.
Lightning provided the spark, dried-out rangeland the fuel of grass, sagebrush and juniper, and high winds the driving force.
“We are getting tired, and our crews are getting tired. … We’ve just had too much of the high winds, and the fires are pretty erratic in their behavior. It’s going to be a long fight,” said Tara Wilson, spokeswoman for firefighting agencies south of Burns.
In Montana, Gov. Brian Schweitzer took a first-hand look at the Emerald Hills wildfire east of Billings that has burned about 6,000 acres, intermittently closing Interstate 90 and destroying two homes. An evacuation order was issued for another 25 to 30 homes along U.S. 87, in an area southwest of the fire.
Nearly 7.2 million acres, or more than 11,000 square miles, have burned across the United States this year, much of it in grass and brush fires that have swept Western rangeland since March. Wildfires last year had burned about 6.8 million acres to this date, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
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