Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Evacuations in place as 3 wildfires burn in eastern Washington state



Evacuations are in place as three wildfires burn in eastern Washington state, officials said.

The largest of the blazes -- known as the Gray Fire, located in and around Medical Lake in Spokane County -- has burned approximately 9,500 acres and is 0% contained, according to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

One person has been confirmed dead in the fire, the agency said. No additional details were available.

The fire spread rapidly after igniting on Friday amid high temperatures, authorities said. Hundreds of firefighters "engaged in a very active fire fight" overnight, Spokane County Fire Chief Cody Rohrbach said during a press briefing Saturday.

As of Saturday morning, 185 houses and outbuildings have burned in the fire, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources said, noting that there currently is "problematic weather" for firefighting.

The southwest side of the fire is more "challenging," with "very active fires" on both sides of Interstate 90, Rohrbach said. On the northern perimeter of the fire, more favorable winds are helping firefighters secure those lines, though there are still "a lot of hotspots," he said.

Evacuations are in place for the cities of Medical Lake and Four Lakes. The Spokane County Sheriff's Office deployed flight crews on Friday to evacuate residents trapped in fire areas.

A fire is also active outside the town of Elk, in Spokane County. The blaze, known as the Oregon Road Fire, has burned 3,000 acres and is 0% contained, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources said.

About 30 structures have been lost in the fire. Approximately 150 homes are threatened, with evacuations in place.

Spokane County officials said they plan to declare a state of emergency at noon Saturday to help bring in additional resources as they respond to the fires.

Authorities urged people to heed evacuation orders amid the active fires.

"We've seen reports of citizens bragging that they're able to get beyond scene and security lines to come in and check on their loved ones or their animals or the status of their homes. I ask, please don't do that," Spokane County Sheriff John Nowels said during the briefing, noting that resources are stretched thin. "We will let people know when it's safe to come back into their homes."

Nowels said there is no power in parts of Medical Lake, and that the region has been a "lot of devastation."

"I've never seen anything like it in my entire life," he said. "This has been a terrible event."

Farther south, a wildfire outside the rural town of Winona in Whitman County has burned 5,000 acres and is 0% contained, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources said.

Evacuation orders are in place for the town of Winona -- approximately 40 to 50 people -- the agency said.

The cause of each fire is under investigation.

ABC News' Vanessa Navarrete contributed to this report.

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