News / USA

    Cooler Weather May Slow Washington Wildfire

    From left, Mim Morris looks through the remnants of her home, which was destroyed by the Carlton Complex Fire, as her grandsons Sean Lafer, 12, and Joel Lafer, 14, join her near Malott, Washington, July 20, 2014.
    From left, Mim Morris looks through the remnants of her home, which was destroyed by the Carlton Complex Fire, as her grandsons Sean Lafer, 12, and Joel Lafer, 14, join her near Malott, Washington, July 20, 2014.
    VOA News

    Firefighters made progress on Sunday in slowing a massive wildfire in Washington state that has raged unchecked for nearly a week, and there are cooler temperatures and lighter winds in the forecast this week for the wild-fire stricken state.

    The Carlton Complex fire has raged unchecked for nearly a week, destroying between 80 and 150 homes and charring a wide swath of wilderness east of the Cascade Mountains.

    Containment efforts were aided by cooler weather and slowing winds, allowing some 1,300 firefighters battling the blaze about 120 miles (195 km) northeast of Seattle to halt the spread of flames and lower evacuation orders in some areas.

    While Sunday's weather was a slight improvement, the forecast for Monday and Tuesday calls for lighter winds and temperatures, said Spokane-based National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Koch.

    “Overall, it looks like the weather scenario is improving,” Koch said.

    Rain, and lightning

    Then on Wednesday a “vigorous” front is expected to cover Washington, bringing rain to much of the state. But it will also bring lighting, 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 lighting that could cause some new ignitions.”

    Sunday's official estimate puts the wildfire burning in north-central Washington at more than 370 square miles. It measured 260 square miles on Friday.

    “Firefighters are working hard to take advantage of [Sunday’s] predicted quieter winds to help them get the remaining portions of the fire lined,” incident Commander Bruce Holloway said in a statement. “They are focusing near homes and communities where needed.”

    The fire, one of about 18 raging from northern California to Idaho as the Pacific Northwest enters its annual fire season, has been especially vexing because it is near populated centers in Washington's picturesque Methow Valley, home to about 10,000 people.

    Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said damage was still being assessed, but estimated that up to 150 homes in a half-dozen towns and rural communities had been lost. There were no reports of serious injuries.

    The towns in Methow Valley remain without power and have limited landline and cellphone service. Okanogan County Public Utility District officials said that fully restoring power to the area could take weeks, the Associated Press reported.

    By early Sunday, the blaze had stopped expanding and evacuation orders were lifted in some areas, including the badly damaged town of Pateros, which was emptied of its 650 residents last week.

    “It seems to be calming down a whole lot,” Rogers said.

    Governor to tour area

    Washington Governor Jay Inslee toured damaged towns, meeting with affected residents and pledging help to rebuild homes.

    The blaze has scorched at least 336 square miles (870 sq km) of dry timber and grasslands in north-central Washington since it was sparked by lightning on Monday.

    The region's biggest fire, the lightning-sparked Buzzard Complex, has burned about 315,000 acres (127,476 hectares) in eastern Oregon and residents in the largely rural area on Sunday were experiencing heavy smoke conditions. 

    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.

    Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AP.

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