Rag­ing US wild­fires grow by 260 square kilo­me­ters


Re­duced winds on Satur­day helped fire­fight­ers gain the up­per hand against a se­ries of gi­ant wild­fires in the western U.S. state of Washington that ear­lier left three fire­fight­ers dead.

The Okanogan Com­plex of wild­fires was mea­sured at 920 square kilo­me­ters (355 square miles) on Satur­day, about 260 kilo­me­ters larger than Fri­day, fire spokesman Rick Isaac­son said.

But the flames were mov­ing away from pop­u­la­tion cen­ters in Okanogan County, which by land area is the largest in Washington state.

Thou­sands of peo­ple in the county re­mained un­der evac­u­a­tion or­ders af­ter strong winds drove flames across parched ground ear­lier this week.

Brad Craig of Omak was told to evac­u­ate on Wed­nes­day, but kept com­ing back to check on his home.

“I was com­ing over sev­eral times a day to check on it,” Craig said.

On Satur­day, he found flames per­haps 27 me­ters from his back deck. With the help of fire­fight­ers, he beat back the flames and was con­fi­dent he had saved his house.

“I’m feel­ing a whole lot bet­ter than I was 3 hours ago,” Craig said.

Re­sources were so strained that on Satur­day fire of­fi­cials be­gan pro­vid­ing ba­sic fire train­ing to vol­un­teers who have ma­chin­ery like back­hoes and bull­doz­ers so they can help dig fire lines.

Mean­while, a sec­ond of the four fire­fight­ers in­jured in a wild­fire on Wed­nes­day has been trans­ferred to Har­borview Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Seat­tle, the North­west’s ma­jor burn cen­ter. Har­borview spokes­woman Su­san Gregg said Satur­day that the fire­fighter was trans­ferred Fri­day night and is listed in sat­is­fac­tory con­di­tion.

She did not re­lease the fire­fight- er’s iden­tity or the ex­tent of his in­juries but said he was a 47-yearold man from the Okanogan area.

“His thoughts are with the other in­jured fire­fight­ers and those who died,” she said.

Three fire­fight­ers were killed and four in­jured when flames over­took them Wed­nes­day while they were bat­tling the Okanogan Com­plex. Another fire­fighter re­mains in crit­i­cal con­di­tion at Har­borview with burns over 60 per­cent of his body.

Of­fi­cials have said the in­jured fire­fight­ers were try­ing to es­cape the flames on foot.

The fire­fighter who was newly ad­mit­ted to Har­borview is an em­ployee of the state Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources, agency spokesman Bob Redling said. He was ini­tially treated and re­leased from a hos­pi­tal in Okanogan, and then asked to go to Har­borview, Redling said.

Three fire­fight­ers — Tom Zbyszewski, Richard Wheeler and An­drew Zajac — died Wednes- day when flames con­sumed their crashed ve­hi­cle as they tried to es­cape the fire.

Winds that blew at 35 mph or more ear­lier in the week let up on Satur­day.

“The winds have died down,” said An­gela Sey­del, spokes­woman for Okanogan County Emer­gency Man­age­ment.

Okanogan County Sher­iff Frank Rogers said flames on Satur­day were mov­ing away from pop­u­la­tion cen­ters in the county of 41,000 peo­ple.

“Things are pretty good,” Rogers said.

Genna Martin/The Her­ald via AP

(Left) Home­owner Brad Craig, right, thanks de­part­ing fire­fight­ers who he said saved his home from a wild­fire in Okanogan, Washington, Satur­day, Aug. 22. Craig said the team of fire­fight­ers saved his home from burn­ing down af­ter he saw flames ad­vanc­ing ear­lier that morn­ing. Out-of-con­trol blazes in north-cen­tral Washington have de­stroyed build­ings, but the sit­u­a­tion is so chaotic that author­i­ties have “no idea” how many homes may have been lost.

(Right) In this photo taken on Fri­day evening, Aug. 21, wild­fires light up the ridge above Omak, Washington, as they con­tinue to burn through­out north-cen­tral Washington.

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