By Nicholas K. Geranois and Andrew Selsky | The Associated Press
SPOKANE — Wildfires fanned by high winds burned hundreds of thousands of acres in the Northwest, mostly destroying a small town in eastern Washington state.
Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday more than 330,000 acres burned in Washington in a 24-hour period — more than burns in most entire fire seasons.
“It’s an unprecedented and heart-breaking event,” Inslee said at a news conference, blaming heat, high winds and low humidity for the explosive growth of fires. “The list of fires is long.”
Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said thousands of people were impacted by the fires, but there appeared to be no deaths or injuries.
“As of this morning, we have nine large fires,” Franz tweeted. “We had 58 new wildfire starts in the last 24 hours.”
Franz said the high winds grounded many firefighting airplanes and helicopters on Monday, making it impossible to knock down fires when they were small.
Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers said a wind-driven fire destroyed an estimated 80 percent of the homes in the town of Malden, which is about 35 miles south of Spokane and has about 200 residents. Malden lost its fire station, post office, City Hall, library and most of its homes, according to the sheriff’s office.
“The scale of this disaster really can’t be expressed in words,” Myers said in a statement. “The fire will be extinguished, but a community has been changed for a lifetime.”
The fire was pushed by winds of up to 45 mph. Deputies went door to door and used public-address systems to tell residents to evacuate.
“The destruction in Malden, Pine City, Colfax, and other towns in Eastern Washington is heartbreaking and unimaginable,” said Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who represents the area.
Inslee, a Democrat, pointed to climate change as a cause of the destruction in Malden.
“It looks like a bomb has gone off,” Inslee said.
The state Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday closed all of the lands it manages east of the Cascades to recreation due to high fire danger.
With no recent lightning storms, the overwhelming majority of wildfires DNR is fighting are presumed to be human-caused, the agency said Tuesday.
“We expect hot, dry, fast-moving winds to continue,” Franz said.
Wind, smoke and fire plagued Pierce County south of Seattle on Tuesday morning, closing highways, knocking out power and destroying six homes in the city of Graham.
A fire burning near Davenport grew to 70,000 acres Tuesday morning and was 0 percent contained, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.
Homes and crops were threatened by the fire that sparked when a tree fell on power lines on Labor Day weekend. At least three homes were destroyed by the fire, according to DNR spokeswoman Isabelle Hoygaard.
The Cold Springs Fire in Okanogan County grew to 140,000 acres and had no containment Tuesday. Multiple structures have been lost and mandatory evacuation orders and road closures are in place, officials said.
The high winds and dry fuels in the Northwest are similar to conditions in California, where thousands of firefighters are battling dozens of fires around the state.
In Oregon, thousands of people were without power as crews battled large fires in Clackamas County on Tuesday morning. Some people were told to evacuate. Over 40,000 people south of Portland were without power.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown approved an emergency conflagration declaration that freed up state resources for several wildfires that exceed the capabilities of local crews. At a news conference she said initial reports show some blazes may have been caused by downed power lines.
“This is proving to be an unprecedented and significant fire event for our state, and frankly for the entire West Coast,” Brown said.
The Lions Head fire in north-central Oregon and the Santiam Canyon fire east of Salem had burned 200,00 acres so far, Brown said.
Authorities evacuated three prisons in Salem due to wildfire threats, sending about 1,400 inmates to the Oregon State Penitentiary.
During the last two weeks there have been 3,000 firefighters on the ground fighting blazes in Oregon.
A grass fire in Ashland in southern Oregon closed down a section of Interstate 5, the main north-south freeway along the West Coast.
In Marion County, which includes the state capital of Salem, a blaze prompted evacuation orders Tuesday in the western foothills of the Cascade Range.