SEATTLE, Aug. 22 (UPI) — A Washington state wildfire that has already killed three firefighters and torched more than 160,000 acres of land continues to burn, but officials say it’s now growing at a much slower pace.
The Okanogan Complex Fire is about 40 percent contained and has triggered evacuations of thousands of residents in north central Washington. Some have been allowed to return home, but because the blaze has destroyed numerous structures some don’t have homes to return to.
The governor’s office said more than 100 homes have so far been destroyed and thousands remain under threat. More than 400,000 acres of land have burned from more than a dozen fires across the state in recent weeks.
The fire is one of dozens burning across the West and one of several raging in Washington. Earlier this week, three firefighters died when flames of the fire suddenly shifted. They were identified as Tom Zbyszewski, 20, Andrew Zajac, 26, and Richard Wheeler, 31.
Authorities said the blaze has slowed in its advance, though, growing only 1,000 acres since Friday. All told, the fire has burned more than 162,000 acres — larger than the area of Seattle and Tacoma combined, KING-TV reported Saturday.
Authorities also said a break in the weather should assist fire crews in fighting the flames. Lighter winds are forecast in some of the areas the Okanogan fire is burning.
“The President’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population,” the White House wrote in a statement.
Obama’s declaration covers 12 Washington counties and the lands of four Native American tribes.
Wildfires have burned this month in several western states — including Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Montana and Wyoming. The greatest number of fires are burning in California, where severe drought has dehydrated the state for four years.