By Victoria Cavaliere
SEATTLE (Reuters) - Wildfires encroaching on a Columbia River town just east of the Cascades in Washington state destroyed at least two buildings and prompted evacuations on Thursday of a hospital, a retirement home and numerous private dwellings, state officials said.
Flames from a cluster of three lightning-sparked blazes dubbed the Carlton Complex fires have scorched at least 18,000 acres of timber and grasslands before reaching the community of Pateros, about 120 miles northeast of Seattle.
Like other fires burning across central and eastern Washington, the flames menacing Pateros were stoked by tinder-dry vegetation, strong, gusty winds and a heat wave that has driven the mercury to triple-digit highs in parts of the state.
The nearby town of Brewster also was threatened, though no evacuations were ordered there as of Thursday night, said Josie Williams, a state fire command spokeswoman in Okanogan County.
No serious injuries have been reported, but a number of firefighters have suffered bouts of heat exhaustion, she said.
At least two structures were destroyed in Pateros, and there were unconfirmed reports of eight more buildings demolished since the fires erupted on Monday. The full extent of property losses has yet to be tallied, she said.
"After what we we've had today, I would venture to say we're going to have that number increase," Williams told Reuters.
As a precaution, the town's hospital and a retirement home were ordered evacuated, along with an unspecified number of homes and businesses, she said.
About 50 miles away on the eastern slopes of the Cascades, a separate blaze nicknamed the Chiwaukum Creek fire continued to rage largely unchecked near the Bavarian-style village of Leavenworth. Nearly 900 homes north of that town remained under evacuation orders, with residents of another 800 homes advised to be ready to flee at a moment's notice, authorities said.
The Chiwaukum Creek fire has blackened an estimated 4,500 acres of timber in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and on private land owned by a paper company since it was ignited by lightning on Tuesday, officials said.
The blazes in central and Eastern Washington are among the latest to strike the nation's drought-parched Western states as the summer fire season heats up. The governors of Oregon and Washington have declared fire emergencies in some regions, clearing the way for assistance from National Guard troops.
In Malheur County in eastern Oregon, separate fires, including two that merged Wednesday, have charred 180,000 acres, or 280 square miles. That blaze was 20 percent contained, officials said.
Livestock, outbuildings, agricultural land and several ranches in the area were being threatened, according to the federal Bureau of Land Management.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Catherine Evans)