The Okanogan Complex wildfire in Washington State has become the largest wildfire in state history, burning more than 400 square miles and counting, beating another fire that earned the dubious title just last year.
As of Monday morning, the fire was only 10% contained, and officials warn that it could continue burning until snow arrives in the fall.
The fire, which has now surpassed last year’s Carlton Complex blazes, is one of at least a half-dozen large blazes burning across Washington, where a federal disaster declaration has been issued and firefighting assistance has arrived from as far away as Australia and New Zealand, in addition to state and federal assets on the ground and in the air.
Amazing picture of #WaWILDFIRE and #Seattle lights from Snoqualmie Pass. pic.twitter.com/0vlqFr7YN8
— Bill Wixey (@BillWixey) August 24, 2015
The Okanogan Complex fire was measured at 239,733 acres as of Monday morning, and is burning near the town of Omak in the north-central part of the drought-plagued state. The fire has proved deadly; three firefighters died battling the blaze last week and four others were injured.
More than 200 homes have been destroyed, with thousands more threatened, from 16 large fires burning across central and eastern Washington alone.
About 1,250 people are battling the Okanogan Complex Fire alone, with thousands more battling other blazes across the West. About 70 fire managers from Australia and New Zealand are in Boise, Idaho receiving training and protective gear before being deployed to fires across the West.
In Washington, resources were so strained that officials earlier took the unprecedented step of seeking volunteers to help fight the flames. Fire officials over the weekend began providing basic fire training to volunteers who have machinery like backhoes and bulldozers so they can help dig fire lines.
The surge in wildfires has smothered much of the West in a blanket of smoke, limiting visibility in Seattle and Portland, and casting a shadow in front of normally pristine vistas in national parks from Glacier National Park to Yellowstone.
CA Fire Summary for 8/24 – Over 11,300 firefighters are battling 16 wildfires across CA. http://t.co/yiwYNlZZOJ pic.twitter.com/9FTjsA5c10
— CAL FIRE PIO Berlant (@CALFIRE_PIO) August 24, 2015
More large fires are torching other parts of the West, including California, where an unprecedented multiyear drought has dried out vegetation. The fires have been so large and so active that they’ve been spotted by satellites during the night.
According to Daniel Berlant, the chief of public information for Cal Fire, more than 11,000 firefighters were battling 16 wildfires in that state on Monday. Some California fire crews were even dispatched to Washington to help that state contain the massive blazes there.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho, the U.S. has seen 42,519 fires so far this year, which have burned about 7.5 million acres. This is well above the 10-year average for acres burned-to-date, which is about 5.2 million acres, but the bulk of the acreage was actually burned during June, when a series of massive fires struck the Alaskan wilderness.
The West overall has had its hottest year-to-date on record, and one of its driest such periods as well. A new study published last week found that global warming has amplified the drought’s severity, and is responsible for up to about 30% of the drought overall.
Some information in this report was provided by the Associated Press.