SEATTLE Aug 4 A newly sparked wildfire was
burning unchecked on Monday in central Washington state,
charring about a dozen homes and threatening wide evacuations as
crews scrambled to contain the blaze in an unusually destructive
fire season on the U.S. West Coast.
The Snag Canyon fire was burning about 10 miles (16 km)
northeast of the city of Ellensburg, east of the Cascade
mountains, home to about 18,000 people and Central Washington
University, fire officials said.
"Right now the fire seems to be moving in a northeasterly
direction towards rangeland, not the city," said Rose Schriner,
a spokeswoman with the Kittitas County Emergency Operations
Center. "We are hoping that continues to be the case."
Evacuation orders were in effect Monday for about 180 homes
and more could be at risk, she said.
At least 12 dwellings have already been destroyed since the
fire was sparked by lightning on Saturday. The size of the blaze
was still being determined.
Dozens of fires are raging across California, Oregon and
Washington, many triggered by lightening and spreading rapidly
through parched forest and vegetation as the West Coast endures
years of drought and warmer-than-average winters.
California was suffering its worst drought on record while
swaths of Oregon and Washington were seeing abnormally dry
conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
One of the largest fires currently raging, the Oregon Gulch
blaze, was 20 percent contained on Monday as it spread over
36,000 acres (15,000 hectares) straddling the Oregon and
California border, the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center
Evacuation orders were in effect for about 40 homes with
another 140 threatened on both sides of the border, officials
California, Oregon and Washington have declared states of
emergency to deal with the wildfires, as experts warn that this
fire season, which runs from mid-May to mid-October, could be
one of the worst on record.
"Basically our fire season never ended last year," said
Dennis Mathisen of California Department of Forestry and Fire
"It's already been very active this year, and this activity
in Oregon Gulch blaze further illustrates that," he said.
Last month, the Carlton Complex blaze, the largest in
Washington's history, destroyed about 300 homes and gutted
entire towns in the Methow Valley near the Cascade range. The
fire cost about $25 million to fight, according to the
Washington Department of Natural Resources.
Washington state's yearly budget for battling wildfires is
about $20 million.
(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Daniel Wallis and