TWISP, Wash., Aug. 19 (UPI) — Three firefighters were killed and at least three were injured Wednesday when a wildfire suddenly shifted direction and lashed back at them, officials say, as the blaze quickly grew to more than a thousand acres.
Okanogan County, Wash., Sheriff Frank Rogers told KREM-TV in Spokane, Wash., the three emergency officials died fighting blazes near the towns of Twisp and Winthrop.
Earlier in the day, the sheriff’s office reported three or four firefighters sustained non-life threatening burns and were transported to area hospitals.
Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statement saying another four firefighters were injured while fighting the fire, which has burned 1,500 acres.
“My heart breaks over the loss of life,” he said in a statement issued to The Omak and Okanogan County Chronicle. “I know all Washington joins me and Trudi in sending our prayers to the families of these brave firefighters. They gave their lives to protect others. It was their calling, but the loss for their families is immense and I know the community will come together to support them. We will also keep the injured firefighters in our prayers. The conditions throughout the area remain extremely dangerous and I hope residents and visitors will heed evacuation orders or other emergency directions.”
Meanwhile, Okagogan County Emergency Management ordered all residents in Twisp and Winthrop to immediately evacuate the towns.
“Be aware of your surrounding and be careful,” the agency said in a post on Facebook.
Officials said more than a million acres of land have been destroyed so far by wildfires burning in the western United States — involving those in California, Idaho and Washington.
Another wildfire burning in Washington state is the Chelan Complex fire, which has so far torched 70,000 acres and is just 50 percent contained.
Like California, officials say Washington is seeing increased fire danger statewide due to dry, hot weather conditions.
“We have had no break in the hot, dry weather,” emergency official Kale Casey said. “We are going to see probably some impressive fire behavior in the next couple days.”
Oregon, Washington’s neighbor to the south, has also struggled to get a handle on wildfires this summer. Recently, the state took the unprecedented step of banning all burning on state-owned land — including candles.
The Department of Defense said Tuesday that it’s prepared to mobilize 200 active-duty service members to help fight the fires — the first time it has taken that step in nearly a decade, NBC News reported.