OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A destructive wildfire in north-central Washington state grew slightly overnight, but firefighters have made progress in their efforts to get it under control, officials said Tuesday.
The Carlton Complex of fires had burned nearly 400 square miles and was 16 percent contained as of Tuesday morning, fire spokeswoman Jessica Payne said. On Monday, the fire was just 2 percent contained.
“If the weather holds, as it is now, we may have more success today,” she said.
Firefighters and local authorities have been heartened by forecasts that call for cooler temperatures and higher humidity as they battle the largest fire in state history. But even though wetter weather has moved in, they worry that lightning strikes could ignite more fires.
“That’s always a concern,” Payne said.
Tuesday’s forecast called for lighter winds, and light showers have already moved through the area and were expected again later in the day, said National Weather Service meteorologist John Livingston.
Winds aren’t expected to be a problem Tuesday afternoon or evening, but they will pick up a bit Wednesday, Livingston said, along with more rain and temperatures in the 70s. But by Monday, he said, dry weather and temperatures into the 90s are expected to return.
Payne said the wetter weather also brought concerns about the potential for flash flooding as a result of loss of ground vegetation that has been burned away.
At more than 250,000 acres, the Carlton Complex is larger than the 1902 Yacolt Burn, which consumed 238,920 acres in southwestern Washington and was the largest recorded forest fire in state history, according to HistoryLink.org, an online resource of Washington state history.
The fire is being blamed for one death. Rob Koczewski, 67, died of an apparent heart attack Saturday while he and his wife were hauling water and digging fire lines near their home. Koczewski was a retired Washington State Patrol trooper and U.S. Marine.
The number of homes destroyed remained at 150, Payne said.
More than 2,100 firefighters and support crew are involved with fighting the fire, Payne said. She said firefighters have had success with fire lines on the east side of state Highway 153 between Carlton and Twisp, and they will be burning lines around Pearrygin Lake on Tuesday.
“If that’s successful, it will mitigate some of the risk to the homes in the area,” she said.
President Barack Obama was arriving in the state for a fundraiser, and Gov. Jay Inslee was scheduled to meet with him in the afternoon to provide a briefing on the fires.