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Inslee surveys Washington blazes: ‘This is a firestorm’

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee views the Chiwaukum Creek fire near Leavenworth, Washington, from the air on Friday. (Associated Press)
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee views the Chiwaukum Creek fire near Leavenworth, Washington, from the air on Friday. (Associated Press)

OLYMPIA – As Central Washington battles a firestorm growing at what may be an unprecedented rate, Gov. Jay Inslee asked residents to use extreme caution and obey evacuation orders if they are given.

Some 50 separate fires were burning in Washington by midday, and federal, state and local agencies were responding as rapidly as possible, Inslee said. The state activated 100 National Guardsmen trained in firefighting and had them on standby to help crews from the Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and local agencies.

The National Guard may give firefighting training to as many as 1,000 soldiers on their annual two-week session at the Yakima Firing Range to have them available for fires later in the summer or fall.

The state may ask for help from active-duty military personnel, and from Montana, which is the only Western state not currently battling fires of its own, Inslee said.

But drought and high winds mean some fires will burn for days and are moving at unpredictable and possibly unprecedented speeds. The total number of acres burned exploded from about 79,000 Thursday to 202,500 by Friday morning. Fires jumped both the Methow and Okanogan rivers.

“Mother Nature is, by and large, in control of these fires,” Inslee said. “This is a different beast. This is a firestorm.”

Residents should obey evacuation orders if directed to leave their homes, he added. “This is not a moment to be pushing the envelope with garden hoses and the like.”

While this is an usually heavy start to this year’s fire season, Inslee said the state will have to prepare for similar conditions in the future because of predictions of warmer temperatures and drier conditions. “This is going to become the norm,” he said.

Inslee visited a fire command center in Wenatchee and a Red Cross shelter for displaced families at Chelan High School on Friday afternoon.

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