SEATTLE – Another day of cooler temperatures and rain is expected to help firefighters gain ground on the largest wildfire in Washington state history, but possible lightning on Wednesday raised concerns about more wildfires in Eastern Washington.
At 379 square miles, the Carlton Complex Fire would stretch from Lynnwood to Auburn and from Bremerton to Issaquah if it was laid out on a map over Puget Sound. The fire was 16 percent contained Tuesday morning, up from two percent on Monday.
"There is optimism in the air, but we don't want to give the impression that all is good," Sanbri said. "Things are improving."
Forecasters say a stormy day Wednesday could bring heavy rain to Western Washington and thunderstorms to Eastern Washington where lightning could spark new wildfires and flash floods could sweep debris down freshly burned hills.
There is a Red Flag Warning for 11 a.m. Tuesday through 5 p.m. Wednesday in the southern part of the state and between the Cascades and the Washington-Idaho border. The biggest threat is frequent lightning combined with possible 40 mph winds and dry fuels.
“We don't need any more lightning," Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said Monday night.
"Right now there's honestly no wind," Rogers said, noting that rising evening winds complicated earlier firefighting efforts. "I'm hoping this is helping."
Forecasters expect dry weather will return by the weekend with highs in the 80s in Western Washington and 90s in Eastern Washington.
Fire crews quickly attacked a new fire east of Tonasket on Monday, Rogers said. A half-dozen homes were briefly evacuated, but the fire burned past them with no destruction.
Residents of a couple of dozen additional rural homes were told to leave Monday, but Rogers said that was just a precaution.
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At 243,000 acres, the Carlton Complex is larger than the Yacolt Burn, which consumed 238,920 acres in southwestern Washington in 1902 and was the largest recorded forest fire in state history, according to HistoryLink.org, an online resource of Washington state history. The Yacolt Burn killed 38 people.
An estimated 200 homes have been destroyed already. The fire is being blamed for one death.
Firefighters were hampered by the loss of electricity in the area due to downed power lines and poles, which hurt communications. There was no estimate on when utilities would be restored.
The fire has created smoky conditions and reduced air quality in much of eastern Washington and northern Idaho.
There are more than 1,600 firefighters battling the flames, assisted by more than 100 fire engines, helicopters dropping buckets of water and planes spreading flame retardant, Sanbri said.
Many towns in the scenic Methow Valley remain without power and have limited landline and cellphone service. Fully restoring power to the area could take weeks, Okanogan County Public Utility District officials told KREM.
The towns of Brewster, Pateros, Twisp and Winthrop were temporarily powering water systems and sewer services by generator, said Mark Clemens, a spokesman at the state Emergency Operations Center.
The state estimates that about 7,000 electricity customers are without power, Clemens said. The population of Okanogan County is about 40,000 people.
More than 100 Washington National Guard soldiers are supporting state Department of Natural Resources firefighters, Clemens added. National Guard helicopters have dropped more than 500,000 gallons of water on the fires.