WENATCHEE – A firefighter has died after falling ill while helping battle a blaze north of Wenatchee, officials said Tuesday, as crews struggled to contain dozens of wildfires throughout Washington.
The timber faller working under contract north of Entiat became ill on the fire line Monday afternoon and was transported to a hospital, where he died later that evening, authorities said. His name was not released.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire offered condolences to his friends and family.
Gregoire also said she would extend an emergency order for all counties east of the Cascades.
More than 4,000 firefighters are battling blazes on some 88 square miles of dry timber, grass and sagebrush in Central Washington. Most of the fires were sparked by lightning earlier this month.
The governor’s proclamation will ensure continued air support from the Washington National Guard to fight wildfires and extends a burn ban through Monday.
“Progress is being made, but we can’t let down our guard,” Gregoire said. “I want to make sure our fire crews have every resource possible.”
Weak winds and stagnant conditions that have allowed smoke to hover over much of the region and impair air quality were expected to continue for several days. Hazardous air quality warnings were issued for Ellensburg and Wenatchee, where residents were advised to remain indoors, limit physical activity and close doors and windows.
Near the rural town of Liberty, about 25 miles northwest of Ellensburg, Gregoire visited residents Tuesday and urged them to evacuate.
Liberty residents were among those in 130 homes who were ordered to evacuate near several Kittitas County wildfires, but many people have declined to leave. Fires in that area have burned more than 6,000 acres, or nine square miles, and were just 4 percent contained.
Near Wenatchee, a complex of several fires continued to threaten as many as 800 homes. Those fires have blackened nearly 55 square miles and were 22 percent contained.
Elsewhere on Tuesday:
• A cluster of fires in Yakima County and part of Kittitas County was 15 percent contained at 2,198 acres. Nearly 700 firefighters were assigned to those blazes.
• Nearly 500 firefighters worked to contain the Okanogan Complex of wildfires in Okanogan County, where about 60 homes were threatened. The fires have burned 4,711 acres, or about seven square miles, and were 18 percent contained.
• The Cascade Creek fire in Klickitat County covered 6,853 acres and was 10 percent contained.