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Wildfires raging in Northwest destroy homes, threaten more

Fires crews in a helicopter fight the Cougar Fire in central Idaho Sunday, Aug. 16. Photo by Sophie Allen.

Fires crews in a helicopter fight the Cougar Fire in central Idaho Sunday, Aug. 16. Photo by Sophie Allen.

Several major wildfires in the Northwest have destroyed homes, forced residents to flee and threatened many more homes as they continued to rage across Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Dozens of homes, vacation cabins and other structures have burned, and authorities said the actual toll is likely to climb as crews continued to assess the damage in coming days.

A large fast-moving fire burning near the central Washington resort town of Chelan has destroyed between 30 and 50 homes, not including outbuildings and other structures, Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett told The Associated Press Sunday.

“It’s an eerie feeling to see cars burned to the ground, tractors scorched,” he said, describing the scene as he visited areas on the outskirts of Chelan that have burned. “I’ve never seen homes lost like this.”

“One of the biggest fears is that we still have potentially a month or more of this,” Burnett said, of the potential fire season ahead.

More fire crews, including from the Washington National Guard, are being mobilized to fight six fires burning in the Chelan area, fire incident spokesman Wayne Patterson said Aug. 16. Together, those blazes have charred more than 155 square miles, forced about 1,500 residents to flee and caused extensive power outages.

Fire crews across the Northwest were hoping to secure lines around other wildfires burning in Idaho and Oregon.

Several wildfires burning in northwest Idaho have scorched more than 80 square miles as of Sunday morning.

“We’re at the point in the summer … where everything is going,” said Mike Cole, spokesman for team managing the Lawyer fire and four other blazes. “This is the time of year that it happens.”

The fire burning near Kamiah, Idaho, has destroyed at least 50 homes and 75 outbuildings as the fire rips through private and public lands. Sheriff’s deputies are still working to identify all the structures that have burned.

“There’s a potential for more loss of property, without a doubt,” Cole said.

“We have so much fire in the landscape and we’ve had so much lightning move through in the last few days. We’re picking up spot fires from lightning. Every day we’re trying to find out where the fire’s edge is,” he added.

Ranchers, farmers and loggers have been using their own heavy equipment to help establish fire lines, Cole said.

State officials cancelled visits at the North Idaho Correction Institution in Cottonwood Aug. 16. The facility isn’t threatened by wildfire but state officials said they wanted to allow staff to support families and neighbors in the Kamiah area.

Also in Idaho, the Soda Creek fire burning about 8 miles northeast of Jordan Valley, Oregon, has already torched more than 440 square miles.

Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter issued a disaster declaration for Owyhee County after touring the devastation Aug. 15. The declaration means farmers and others affected by the fire can get economic assistance.

In Oregon, the Canyon Creek Complex burning south of John Day, Oregon, has destroyed at least 26 homes, though officials say the number may go up as crews make assessments. The fire was estimated at more than 53 square miles on Sunday morning.

Dean Elliot and his wife evacuated Aug. 14 just minutes before that ripped down a ridge and along the creek where they lived.

As he surveyed the smoldering remains of his home of 53 years, he told Oregon Public Broadcasting: “You could have put all the water you had on this. And it would have never slowed it down.”

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