Fire-battered West gets help from other nations, volunteers

3 Firefighters Killed While Battling Wildfire In Washington State

OKANOGAN, Wash. (AP) -- Firefighters from as far as Australia and New Zealand have arrived in the West as massive wildfires raging in Washington state and elsewhere in the region taxed resources and led officials to put out a wide call for help.

In Washington, a series of fires raging in the north-central part of the state that earlier killed three firefighters has now grown to become the largest in state history, fire spokesman Rick Isaacson said Monday.

The lightning-caused Okanogan Complex of fires were measured overnight at just over 400 square miles. That's slightly more than last year's Carlton Complex blazes, which also were sparked by lightning and burned in Okanogan County.

"I'd like to set some different records," Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said Monday.

Last year's fires were grouped closer together and destroyed some 300 homes, Rogers said. This year, wildfires are burning across the large county and officials have no idea how many homes have burned.

The Okanogan Complex of fires grew by more than 26 square miles Sunday and is expected to spread even more in coming days.

Photos from the Washington state wildfires:

Washington State wildfires August 2015
See Gallery
Fire-battered West gets help from other nations, volunteers
OMAK, WA - AUGUST 22: A makeshift fire truck puts water on a wildfire, which is part of the Okanogan Complex, as it burns through brush on August 22, 2015 near Omak, Washington. The fires have burned more tha 127,000 acres. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
OMAK, WA - AUGUST 23: A farmer mows alfalfa amid the smoke from the Okanagon Complex Wildfires on August 23, 2015 near Omak, Washington. More than 1,000 personnel are fighting the Okanagon Complex Fires which have burned more 239,000 acres. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
OKANOGAN, WA - AUGUST 22: Firefighters extinguish hotpots after a wildfire, part of the Okanogan Complex, swept through the area on August 22, 2015 near Okanogan, Washington. The Okanogan Complex fires have burned more than 127,000 acres. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
OMAK, WA - AUGUST 21: A wildfire, which is part of the Okanogan Complex, flares up on August 21, 2015 in the hills near Omak, Washington. The fires, which killed three firefighters and critically injured another, threaten homes and communities throughout the area. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Isaacson did not have a containment estimate, but there is very little containment on the wildfire.

Isaacson called the record unfortunate and said the fire could burn until rain and snow season arrives.

"It's only Aug. 24th," Isaacson said. "In our district we could see this go clear to the first of November."

Rogers noted that many of the fires are burning in heavily timbered areas on steep terrain.

"There's no way to fight them," Rogers said.

About 1,250 people are battling the Okanogan Complex, Isaacson said. Last week, three firefighters were killed and four injured when they were overtaken while trying to escape the flame.

About 70 fire managers from Australia and New Zealand arrived in Boise, Idaho, and were scheduled to receive protective gear Monday before heading out to fight fires burning in the West.

In Washington, resources were so strained that officials earlier took the unprecedented step of seeking volunteers to help fight the flames. Fire officials over the weekend began providing basic fire training to volunteers who have machinery like backhoes and bulldozers so they can help dig fire lines.

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.

Elsewhere, crews increased containment of a wildfire burning through timber near a popular Southern California ski resort, though hundreds of mountain homes remained threatened early Monday.

Several water and retardant-dropping aircraft were making runs over the blaze near Snow Summit resort in Big Bear Lake, about 100 miles east of Los Angeles.

Firefighters working through the night held the blaze to about 100 acres. It was 50 percent contained.


Geranios reported from Spokane.

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