by: MANUEL VALDES Updated:
Firefighting crews are making progress against Washington's largest wildfire, saying the 390-square-mile fire in the north-central part of the state is now almost 60 percent contained.
But crews are monitoring with wary eyes a forecast next week that may spike temperatures to triple digits. During the past few days, cooler weather and rain helped out the firefighters contain the blaze.
"As expected, the rains we had back on Thursday really did a lot to slow this part of the fire," incident spokesman Alan Hoffmeister said. "The perception is that the fire looks pretty well taken care of. But we still have areas of heavy fuel continuing to burn."
On Saturday, temperatures and the wind began to pick up. Plumes of smoke are popping up around the area, Hoffmeister said.
At nearly 400 square miles, the lightning-caused Carlton Complex has eclipsed the 1902 Yacolt Burn, which killed 38 people and consumed about 373 square miles, or 238,920 acres, in southwest Washington. The Carlton Complex has been blamed for the death of a man who appeared to suffer a heart attack while trying to protect his property.
On Friday, officials in north-central Washington increased their estimate of burned homes from 150 to 300. Electricity was also restored to towns in the scenic Methow Valley.
There are areas northeast of Winthrop where there is a lot of fuel — underbrush, grass and small trees — that has not burn yet, Hoffmeister said. Fire commanders are considering a planned burn to stop the fire from spread over a ridge and toward properties.
But ideal weather conditions are needed for the planned burn. The air has to have moisture, and wind has to be at a minimum to keep the burn from escalating.
"We know we have a fairly narrow window of opportunity to ty to do this burning," he said.
Meanwhile in Oregon, firefighters continued to make progress on several fires.
The nation's largest wildfire — the 618-square-mile Buzzard Complex in eastern Oregon, 45 miles northeast of Burns — is now at 95 percent contained. The Ochoco complex, which consists of four wildfires that burned on 10,000 acres east of Prineville, is now 69 percent contained. And the Bridge 99 complex north of Sisters is 74 percent contained. The closure of the Pacific Crest Trail in that area has been rescinded.
Temperatures are continuing to increase and the relative humidity, the amount of moisture in the air, is dropping, which is expected to result in very active fire behavior, fire officials said.
Associated Press writer Gosia Wozniacka contributed from Portland, Oregon.