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Washington Evacuees Have Dealt With Fires Before, But ‘Not Like This’

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
Flames shoot from behind a house during a wildfire Friday, July 18, 2014, near Pateros, Wash.

Gov. Jay Inslee says 1,000 National Guard troops will take a crash course in wildfire fighting so they can be deployed to central Washington fires. A blaze in Okanogan County that the governor calls a “firestorm” has destroyed around 100 homes.

Inslee says the troops are currently in Yakima for annual training.

"We're lucky, because they are on duty and in a place they can be trained. So we are going to bring trainers from the Department of Natural Resources to train them as rapidly as possible to be available — not just now, but for the rest of the summer," he said. 

One hundred other guardsmen who are already certified in firefighting are awaiting assignments to relieve tired fire crews. 

Fires in the so-called Carlton Complex have been scaling ridge lines and in some places, jumping the Okanogan River. Parts of the Methow Valley and the entire town of Pateros are under evacuation orders.

"This fire is so overpowering," Inslee said of the Carlton Complex fire. "Our forests are so dry. The winds are so fresh that this is not a matter of assets. There are not enough assets available in any dimension to stop the spread of this fire. So we have had to focus on personal safety." 

Kathleen Allen's home is south of Malott, Washington. Allen, who evacuated at 1 a.m., says they've had nearby fires before, “but not like this.”

“Not where the whole north to south was all on fire and coming down, and coming to the river,” she said. “And houses across the river from us — they've all burned. That's what my son just told me.”

Allen says flames 12 feet high were coming out of her vineyard as she was leaving. She doesn't know if her house is still standing.

There are at least 27 large, uncontained fires burning across Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Crews are bracing for extreme fire activity to continue until the arrival of cooler weather promised for the weekend.

Inslee urges residents near those fires to heed evacuation notices when issued.

"I know there is a desire to protect one's home and one's buildings, but this is not a moment to push the envelope with garden hoses and the like," he said.

Inslee says the state has requested federal assistance to get more firefighting resources. 

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
Inland Northwest Correspondent Jessica Robinson reports from the Northwest News Network's bureau in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. From the politics of wolves to mining regulation to small town gay rights movements, Jessica covers the economic, demographic and environmental trends that are shaping places east of the Cascades.
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