Wildfire In Washington Kills 3 Firefighters & Prompts Evacuations Of Several Towns As Fires In The United States Continue To Worsen
The sky in Spokane, Washington, on Wednesday night was a bizarre mixture of gray and orange, and the sun blaring through the haze was nearly red. About three hours away, a 1,500-acre wildfire has been raging, prompting evacuations of the towns of Twisp and Winthrop, and tragically causing the death of three firefighters. The wildfires in Washington state are getting worse and worse; on Tuesday, KREM2 reported that more than 2,600 firefighters and support personnel were fighting fires in the state and would soon be joined by 200 soldiers from a nearby Army base.
Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers confirmed Wednesday that three firefighters had been killed in the Twisp fire and several more had been injured. More details were not immediately available. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee released a statement mourning the loss of the firefighters, writing:
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.
And it's not just the Twisp wildfire that's devastating the state. Towns in Okanogan County have already been evacuated, and an entirely separate group of wildfires called the Chelan Complex in central Washington continue to grow. It's been one of the most active fire seasons for the entire United States in recent history, according to the Associated Press, and it all boils down to a deadly combination of drought and heat.
According to The Washington Post, there are approximately 30,000 firefighters in the country currently battling wildfires. But, as the newspaper points out, that's still not enough, even though it's the most that have been mobilized in 15 years. The majority of fires are located in the West; data from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) shows that on Wednesday, there were 78 reported large fires, mostly from Washington (18), Idaho (15), California (13), Oregon (12), and Montana (12).
"Large" fire is no joke. So far this year, more than 7.1 million acres in the United States have burned. And 1.25 million of those acres are current. The biggest one by far is the 283,686-acre Soda Fire in Idaho, about 40 miles from Boise. In fact, the Soda Fire has seen some bizarre phenomenons, like this "firenado" or "fire whirl," recorded by Craig Fluer, a worker with the Forest Service.
The preparedness level for the country is currently set at a Level 5, which is the highest possible level, and is described as more than 80 percent of resources committed. The website states, "Geographic Areas are experiencing major incidents which have the potential to exhaust all agency fire resources." It's been a devastating year of wildfires in the West and Northwest, and according to the NIFC, it'll start letting up in September, though not finally over until around October or November.
You can see in the map above that the entire state of Washington, where residents are now mourning the loss of three firefighters' lives due to these wildfires, is experiencing an above normal of wildland fire potential. The devastation is grabbing the attention of politicians, some of whom are calling for action. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told The Washington Post:
We are at a tipping point. Congress must change the way it pays for wildfires by providing a fiscally responsible way to treat catastrophic wildfires more like the natural disasters that they are, end fire transfers, partially replenish our capacity to restore resilient forests, and protect lives and property against future fires.
Image: NIFC (1)