SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The largest wildfire in Washington state history grew by more than 22 square miles overnight, and firefighters are worried about high winds predicted for this weekend.
The Okanogan Complex of wildfires was listed at 472 square miles on Friday morning, after windy conditions Thursday pushed the fire on a couple of runs. It is only 12 percent contained.
Officials say the fire has destroyed at least 45 primary residences, 49 cabins and 60 outbuildings. Three firefighters died battling the fire last week, and a memorial service for them is planned for Sunday in Wenatchee.
Fire spokeswoman Sierra Hellstrom says temperatures are lower and humidity higher on Friday, which is good news for firefighters. But thunderstorms with high winds predicted for this weekend could fan the flames.
Okanogan County Fires issued mandatory evacuation orders Friday afternoon for those living in the north, middle and south forks of Gold Creek and Gold Creek Road. It urged them to take Highway 153 and head toward Twisp or Pateros.
Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statement warning of extremely dangerous conditions being expected this weekend.
“I want to urge people in the area of any Washington wildfire to heed evacuation orders and not take unnecessary risks," Inslee said. "If you hear your town or area is under a Level 3 immediate evacuation notice, that means there is very serious and very real threat.
“The weather forecast this weekend calls for gusty and dry conditions that could lead to extremely fast-moving and dangerous fire growth. This could place hundreds of people in danger.
“Many Eastern Washington communities are threatened by the growing fires. If you receive a Level 3 evacuation notice, you should leave the area immediately. You should follow all evacuation instructions you are given. Local authorities who want you to evacuate are concerned with the immediate safety of you and your family.
“If you choose not to evacuate, you must understand that emergency services will not be able to assist you. Your life may be at risk. Firefighters will not be allowed to enter the area. All roads may be inaccessible due to fire. Roadblocks and 24-hour patrols will be established in the area. You will not be allowed to return until conditions are safe.
“Stay safe and know that many people are doing everything possible to contain the fires and protect people and property," Inslee said.
The Incident Information System said the Okanogan Complex Fire was ignited by lightning on August 21. The fires are burning in steep, rugged terrain near the town of Omak, on lands managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, the Confederated Tribes of the Coleville Reservation, and private lands.
The Okanogan Complex includes six fires: Blue Lake, Lime Belt and Beaver Lake Fires (which burned together and are referred to as Lime Belt); Tunk Block Fire; Twisp River Fire; and the Nine Mile Fire.
Both the Nine Mile Fire and Twisp River Fires are in mop-up and patrol status, the agency said.