Smoke starting to lift over Washington fires

AP News
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Posted: Aug 23, 2015 9:25 PM
Smoke starting to lift over Washington fires

TWISP, Wash. (AP) — The latest on wildfires in Washington state, including those that killed three firefighters (all times local):

6:20 p.m.

The Washington State Department of Health said that should nearby wildfires reach the site of a now-defunct uranium mine in Stevens County in eastern Washington, the smoke won't be any more toxic than the standard smoke from a wildfire.

In an announcement, the department said that radioactive materials at the Midnight Mine, which is about three miles northwest of Wellpinit on the Spokane Reservation, "won't exacerbate the dangers of wildfire smoke if the fires overtake the site as the naturally occurring radioactive material stays in its original rock form and does not burn."

Nevertheless, the department said, people in the area should take the same precautions as they would with any other kind of smoky air. "People are encouraged to remain indoors to avoid breathing smoky air, which can cause coughing, chest pain and shortness of breath in healthy people," the announcement said.

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3:30 p.m.

Fire officials in Washington state say smoke is lifting over a complex of wildfires burning in north-central Washington.

Spokeswoman Suzanne Flory says visibility has improved and so has air quality, but so far fire activity has not heated up.

Flory says smoke often works as a cap on fire activity and when it lifts, the humidity goes down, temperatures go up and often fire activity increases.

Fire officials won't know until late Sunday or early Monday how much the Okanogan Complex of fires grew Sunday. The fires had burned more than 375 square miles by Sunday morning, and the fires were about 10 percent contained.

Meanwhile, officials say three firefighters injured in a fire near Twisp, Washington, on Wednesday are recuperating at home after being released from the hospital. A fourth injured firefighter is being treated at a hospital in Seattle. Three others were killed in the fire.

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11:45 a.m.

Fire officials in Washington state say a complex of wildfires burning in north-central Washington is about 10 percent contained.

Spokesman Dan Omdal says containment does not mean the fire has stopped burning. It means it has run out of fuel to burn in that area, either because it has hit a man-made fire line, or a retardant drop or a road or lake.

The Okanogan Complex of fires has burned more than 375 square miles. Omdal says some of the land within the fire lines is still on fire, but other sections have been tamed.

"We are making progress," he said.

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10:30 a.m.

Fire officials in Washington state say a complex of wildfires burning in north-central Washington has grown to cover 374 square miles. Infrared mapping found the fires spread about 19 square miles Saturday evening.

Fire spokeswoman Suzanne Flory says there could be some explosive fire growth Sunday if a cap of smoke lifts from Okanogan County, as has been forecast. When the smoke lifts on a wildfire, humidity drops, heat rises and fires can flare up. Flory says it's similar to what happens when the flue is opened on a fireplace.

Flory says the good news is that less smokes means restrictions on air travel will be lifted and more fire tankers can fly over and drop water and chemical retardant.

Meanwhile, county officials have downgraded some evacuation notices, allowing some people to return to their homes. Sarah Miller, a spokeswoman with Okanogan County Emergency Management, says residents have been warned to stay ready to leave at any time and to not drive around looking at the fires. She says some people have been getting in the way of firefighting operations.

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9:30 a.m.

A new firefighting mobilization center is being set up at Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane to help fight wildfires in Washington state. The base will be the staging area for 20 large fire engines and 10 water takers and will be run by a team from San Diego, California.

The new firefighting resources come one day after the Obama administration approved Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's request for a federal emergency declaration to help firefighting efforts in the eastern part of the state.

Inslee's office says fire engines are coming from Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado.

Sixteen large wildfires are burning across central and eastern Washington, covering more than 920 square miles. More than 200 homes have been destroyed and more than 12,000 homes and thousands of other structures remain threatened.