• Australian firefighters heading to Okanogan complex

    By: KIRO 7 STAFF

    Updated:

    OKANOGAN CO. and CHELAN CO., Wash. - Help from "down under" comes to northern Washington as firefighters work the state's largest fire in Okanogan County.

    Sixteen of the Australian firefighters who have arrived in the United States to help battle Western blazes will be assigned to the Okanogan Complex.

    Fire spokesman Rick Isaacson says the firefighters will be in north-central Washington on Thursday.

    <center><div id="fb-root"></div><script>(function(d, s, id) {  var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];  if (d.getElementById(id)) return;  js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id;  js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v2.3";  fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));</script><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/KIRO7Seattle/posts/1058911927461893" data-width="300"><div class="fb-xfbml-parse-ignore"><blockquote cite="https://www.facebook.com/KIRO7Seattle/posts/1058911927461893"><p>INTERNATIONAL HELP: Australian and New Zealand firefighters have arrived in the United States -- to help battle...</p>Posted by <a href="https://www.facebook.com/KIRO7Seattle">KIRO 7 Eyewitness News</a> on&nbsp;<a href="https://www.facebook.com/KIRO7Seattle/posts/1058911927461893">Tuesday, August 25, 2015</a></blockquote></div></div></center>

    Isaacson says they are mid-level fire managers who will mostly work in support functions, although some may operate bulldozers.

    Isaacson says the Australians have similar training programs to U.S. firefighters and he doesn't expect them to have any trouble blending in.

    The Okanogan Complex grew 2.6 square miles overnight and now stands at 403 square miles. Isaacson says there are 1,345 people battling the flames.

    On long shifts, firefighters brave wildfires across Washington

    As flames scorch more than 920 square miles across eastern and central Washington, firefighters continue to brave the front lines of treacherous wildfires. 

    "Crews rushed across the airstrip to homes next to the base to fight the fire ... wind-whipped flaming debris and embers filled the air," officials behind the Reach Complex, Wolverine, and Black Canyon fires wrote when a firestorm swept around all sides of the Chelan airport. 

    "Thanks to their efforts, many homes were saved from certain destruction. And the people who fought those flames would never consider themselves heroes, it’s just what they do."

    The fast action in Chelan County's August 14 blaze is one of dozens of incidents firefighters and crews faced in the last week. Some firefighters have reportedly put in more than 100 hours over the course of those brutal seven days. 

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    Now, the largest fires burn in the Okanogan Complex, which has surpassed last year's Carlton Complex blazes. 

    The Okanogan Complex was measured overnight at just over 400 square miles, slightly more than the Carlton fires, that also burned in Okanogan County.



    More resources were moved to Okanogan on Monday morning, and officials are still trying to determine how many homes and other structures have been burned by the complex. 

    Three firefighters were killed fighting near Twisp, a town in Okanogan, on Wednesday. Four others were injured.

    Blazes have "burned a big hole in our state's heart," Gov. Jay Inslee lamented Thursday, describing the outbreak as an "unprecedented cataclysm."

    >> PHOTOS: Firefighters at work in Wash. wildfires

    "These are three big heroes protecting small towns," the governor said, urging residents to "thank a firefighter."

    Thousands are sharing their support for firefighters. Click here to leave your thoughts.      

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    As crews made inroads against massive fires burning in north-central Washington some people began to assess just how damaging the huge blazes have been.

    >> PHOTOS: Flames charge across dry Washington

    Steve Surgeon, a mechanic and scrap-metal seller, lost everything he owns except for his home on the outskirts of Okanogan. He stayed in place as the fire raced over a ridge and barreled down toward his house, flames lapping just feet from his back porch.

    "I'm alive," he said with a sigh Sunday. "I shouldn't be, but I am — and that's what matters."

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