3 firefighters killed in wildfires near Twisp

KING 5's John Langeler and Jesse Knutson reports.

  • Three firefighters were killed Wednesday. Four were injured including one in critical condition
  • The Chelan Fire jumped the containment line at First Creek overnight. The Level 3 evacuation notice is extended to 25 Mile Creek State Park

TWISP, Wash. -- The Okanogan County Sheriff's Office says three firefighters have died and four more have suffered injuries as raging wildfires advance on the towns of Twisp and Winthrop in north-central Washington.

Department of Natural Resources officials say the three firefighters who died were engaged in the initial firefighting attack near Twisp and were involved in a vehicle accident before the fire overtook their vehicle.

Four additional firefighters were injured, one with the U.S. Forest Service, two from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and one DNR contractor. The incident happened where officials issued an evacuation order Wednesday.

One of the injured firefighters was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in critical condition. Hospital officials say the 25-year-old man was being treated for severe burns. The firefighter's grandparents say he was born and raised in Tacoma and currently lives in Puyallup. His firefighting unit was based out of Leavenworth.

The three other injured firefighters were taken to area hospitals for treatment. Their conditions were unknown.

Gov. Jay Inslee in a release expressed his condolences, saying his heart breaks over the loss of life and that conditions remain extremely dangerous.

Inslee will travel to the Chelan area Thursday to view firefighter efforts. He is expected to arrive at Pangborn Memorial Airport in East Wenatchee at 8 a.m. and head to the Chelan Falls incident command post at Chelan Falls Park.

Twisp, Wenatchee, Riverside evacuated

The advancing fire, named the Twisp River Fire, continued to blaze near homes Wednesday evening, lighting up the night sky.

The fire forced emergency management officials to evacuate Winthrop and Twisp Wednesday afternoon, and later for the town of Riverside. The fire was more than 50 acres and threatening between 20 to 100 nearby buildings.

Fire officials say the Twisp River Fire is new and not part of the Okanogan Complex Fire. It started Wednesday afternoon about five miles west of Twisp in Woods Canyon, where the firefighters are believed to have lost their lives.

 

Residents were asked to head south immediately and told to be aware of their surroundings and leave carefully.

Winthrop residents were told not to evacuate directly on State Route 20 towards Twisp due to congestion. Instead, they were advised to drive south on Eastside Road past the Smokejumper Base, then proceed southeast on Highway 20/Highway 153 to the Red Cross Shelter at Brewster High School.

CLICK HERE for latest updates on Twitter by emergency management officials

The Red Cross has set up six shelters in Okanogan County: Brewster High School in Brewster, Morgen Owens Elementary in Chelan, Sterling Intermediate School in East Wenatchee, Republic Elementary in Republic, Gess Elementary School in Chewelah and Columbia School. So far, more than 100 evacuees have arrived at Brewster High School. Red Cross volunteers say they've seen coming in all night along, and that there's a good chance dozens more will show up.

Phone service has been restored to the Okanogan Emergency Management Office: 509-422-7348.

Okanogan County Emergency Management also has a Disaster Distress Helpline available, providing 24/7 crisis counseling and support for people affecting the wildfires. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text 66746.

Firefighters are bracing for high winds through Friday which threatened to stoke wildfires burning across Eastern Washington. The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for the eastern portion of the state from 11 a.m. Wednesday to 5 p.m. Friday.

Inslee requests federal Emergency Declaration

Following the deaths of the firefighters, Governor Inslee sent out a press release stating he had requested federal Emergency Declaration to secure additional wildfire resources.

The governor's request was sent to President Obama through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and pointed out that currently 11 counties and four tribes are affected or threatened by fires. Officials have confirmed that the fires have already destroyed more than 50 homes, 60 other structures and more than 235,000 acres of land.

"Our communities are still healing from last year's fires," Inslee said. "Tonight we heard the heartbreaking news that three firefighters died while battling the Twisp fire and others are injured. Communities in Eastern Washington are strong and coming together, but need help. The current fires will exacerbate the ongoing housing shortages and economic troubles felt throughout the region. We're doing everything we can to assess the damage and work with our partners to obtain additional federal assistance."

Inslee declared a State of Emergency on June 26th in anticipation of a damaging wildfire season. More than 300 Washington National Guardsmen have been mobilized to assist firefighting efforts. Multiple other state agencies are providing support services ranging from air monitoring to shelter for displaced residents.

More than 3,600 homes remain threatened, and the number is expected to rise as increased winds and low humidity are expected over the region.

If approved, the Emergency Declaration would make financial assistance available to the State, eligible local jurisdictions and private non-profit organizations. The assistance could be used to pay for costs of emergency protective measures, emergency response, and debris removal. Federal government would reimburse 75 percent of eligible costs. The declaration would also provide direct federal assistance from federal agencies.

Okanogan Complex fires prompt 'general fire evacuation order'

Earlier Wednesday, a small town in Okanogan County was evacuated Wednesday due to the Okanogan Complex fires and the county itself is described as being under a "general fire evacuation order."

The Blue Lake Fire has forced the evacuation of Conconully, about 20 miles northwest of Omak. About 200 people were ordered to leave their homes. Some residents had to be escorted through the flames by police.

The Buck Lake fire southeast of Conconully is another concern, but is considered a lower priority.

People with livestock can take them to the rodeo grounds in Tonasket, the Omak Stampede grounds or the county fairgrounds. There are several large cattle producers and livestock ranches in the Conconully area who were told to start moving livestock two days ago.

Many of them are still trucking livestock out of the area. Others have just opened the gates so livestock and cattle can escape on their own.

Okanogan County Emergency Management director Maurice Goodall says some homes have been lost in the area of Riverside due to the Tunk Block Fire. That fire jumped over Highway 97 and headed toward Omak Airport. Embers were flying up to four miles, causing concern that new wildfires could be sparked.

Ten aircraft are helping fight the fire in Omak.

A total of 1,404 people are under evacuation due to the Okanogan Complex.

A community meeting is scheduled Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. at Omak's Eastside Park in the dance pavilion.


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