OKANOGAN CO., Wash. - The lightning-caused Okanogan Complex that threatens hundreds of homes grew by more than 22 square miles between Thursday night and Friday morning.
Officials say they did not see any explosive growth over the weekend, and Okanogan County Emergency Management downgraded evacuation levels on Tuesday morning. Scroll down for more on weather and evacuation information.
The Okanogan Complex of wildfires was measured at 225 square miles and was 40 percent contained. This had been the largest wildfire in state history until more than half was split off this week by fire managers into a separately-managed blaze.
An earthquake with 4.3 magnitude hit the wildfire zone 26 miles east of Okanogan on Tuesday morning. No damages were reported.
- 3 firefighters killed near Twisp on Aug. 19
- 5 towns evacuated in a week
- Fires in Okanogan County continue to burn
- MAP: Where fires are burning
- SOCIAL: Okanogan County Emergency Management updates on Facebook
- CALL: Anyone impacted and needs assistance can call 509-670-5331
- Click here for Red Cross shelters
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Where are the fires in the Okanogan Complex?
At its largest, the Okanogan Complex consisted of five fires. Except for the Nine Mile Fire, all are lightning-caused. Out-of-control blazes in north-central Washington have some firefighters working two weeks straight. Three died in the blaze last week.
- Lime Belt/Blue Lake fire and Beaver Lake Fire: On the northwest corner of the fire, firefighters continued to use dozers to construct fireline on Tuesday. It's 15 percent contained.
- Twisp fire: The Twisp Fire was added as part of the Okanogan Complex. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has authorized the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs for the Twisp River Fire, burning in Okanogan County, Washington.It's 98 percent contained.
- Tunk Block fire: This fire grew more than 126,000 acres and burned onto the Colville Reservation. It had potential to join the North Star Fire to the east last week.
- Nine Mile fire: This fire was 95 percent contained earlier in the week. Fire investigators consider the fire to be human-caused and under investigation. It's 98 percent contained.
At it's largest, Okanogan Complex burned at 302,225 acres. Click here for latest incident report.
How will weather affect firefighting efforts?
Lower temperatures and higher humidity gave helped firefighters Tuesday as they tried to control the wildfires.
A wildfire north of Nespelem that burned 320 square miles was 25 percent contained on Tuesday morning. Fire officials said a 252-square mile fire burning just west of there was 30 percent contained.
"The weather is really helping," fire spokesman Donnie Davis said.
Highs that had been in the 90s recently were in the 60s now, and humidity had more than doubled into the 40s, Davis said.
Okanogan County Emergency Management downgraded evacuation levels on Tuesday morning.
Level 3 - Leave Immediately
- Aeneas Valley
- Crawfish Lake
- Disautel – west to Omak
- Kartar Valley
- Moses Meadows
- North of South Nanamkin on Hwy 21
- Tunk area
Level 2 – Be Ready
- Gardener Creek Rd at Ferry County Line
- Nespelem and Nespelem HUDs
- Owhi Flats
- South Nanamkin Creek – South to Cache Creek Rd turnoff on Hwy 21
Level 1 – Alert
- Alta Lake
- Buzzard Lake Rd
- Clarkston Mill
- Colville Agency
- Town of Conconully greater area
- Gold Creek Rd.
- Gold Creek Loop Rd.
- South Fork Gold Cr. Rd
- Middle, North Forks Gold Cr. Rds.
- Leader Lake
- Methow Valley north from Alta Lake to Ross Rd. north of Carlton
- Omak Flats
- Pine Forest Area
- Pleasant Valley
- State Frontage Rd outside Tonasket
- Sun Mountain
- Twisp River Rd
- Twisp River
- Twisp River Drainage
- West Fork Rd area of Salmon Creek, west of city limits
- Wolf Creek: All of the L Fork and the R Fork up to Green Meadows
Schools starting on time in Omak
Those giant wildfires burning in the Omak area won't delay the start of school.
Classes will start Tuesday as planned in the Omak School District.
The Seattle Times reports that Omak schools have been fitted with "air scrubbers" to clear indoor air of smoke from the Okanogan complex wildfires.
Air quality in and around Omak was considered "very unhealthy" Friday by state Department of Ecology standards.
But school officials say air quality inside school buildings is greatly improved by the scrubbers. All outdoor activities, including sports and recess, will move indoors.
Who is affected by the fire?
The Okanogan fires, which have claimed the lives of three firefighters, grew by 2.6 square miles on Monday night and have now burned 403 square miles.
A total of 1,345 people were battling the flames. Three firefighters were killed last week in Twisp. To find coverage on the firefighters, click here.
Blazes have "burned a big hole in our state's heart," Gov. Jay Inslee lamented last week, describing the outbreak as an "unprecedented cataclysm."
"These are three big heroes protecting small towns," the governor said, urging residents to "thank a firefighter."
Five towns, including Twisp, Conconully, Tonasket, Riverside and Winthrop, were evacuated last week.
Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said last week that "we have lost [structures], but I don't know how many."
By Tuesday afternoon, county officials counted 40 houses. There is still no total count, because people have yet to go in and assess damage.
As crews made inroads against massive fires on Monday, some people began to assess just how damaging the huge blazes have been.
Fire crews prepared for the worst on Tuesday evening getting ready to make a stand and defend homes along Crawfish Lake in Okanogan County.
As they worked cutting low hanging branches around homes and clearing brush, Ron Botchek worked to get out.
“Hopefully we’re not going to have to worry about the fire,” said Botchek. “But boy, you don’t just don’t know. It’s closing in.”
Crawfish Lake is in the mountains above the Tunk Valley, an area hit hard when the Okanogan Complex fire flared into the largest blaze in state history. Now crews are worried two separate fires that make up part of the larger blaze will combine, targeting dense forest and homes surrounding the lake.
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."
So many fires are burning in the state that managers are taking extreme measures, summoning help from Down Under and 200 U.S. troops from a base in Tacoma in the first such use of active-duty soldiers in nine years.
The Associated Press contributed to this report