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Washington Wildfires Burn Homes, Force Evacuations

U.S. 97, at milepost 275, just north of the junction of US 97 & SR 17. Washington State DOT

A cluster of four wildfires burning in north-central Washington had left nearly 100 destroyed homes in its wake and swelled to more than 260 square miles by Friday morning, according to officials.

“Every 10 minutes or so another house is going up,” David Rodriguez, chief deputy at the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office, told NBC News.

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The Carlton Complex fires were ignited by lightning on Monday, and the four wildfires — fueled by dry timber and grass — ballooned overnight, said a spokesman for the Carlton Complex, Rick Waldrup.

The worst of the four fires forced closure of highways 20 and 153 and cut power to the Methow Valley, a premier resort area. A third of the Okanogan County remained without power on Friday, Rodriguez said.

While the 700 residents of Pateros who fled their homes Thursday night were allowed to return to survey the damage, 1,000 evacuation orders remained in place in areas threatened by the fire, according to officials.

Four shelters were set up in various facilities for displaced residents, said Bernardo Actaoen, senior operations assistant at the western Washington Red Cross. Eighty people stayed in a local high school overnight, and 35 stayed in a church that was housing an additional 50 people by Friday morning, Actaoen said.

Firefighter Don Scahfer told NBC affiliate King 5 several community buildings were also destroyed in the fire, including the local post office, school, a church and a hardware store.

Structures were the main casualty of the fires. No one had been injured by the forces of the blaze as of Friday morning, Rodriguez said.

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Half of the state of Washington was under a red flag warning, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Fires in Washington were expected to continue to spread rapidly due to gusty winds, high temperatures and low humidity, according to NOAA.

“This is unprecedented for us,” Rodriguez said.

The State Emergency Operations Center declared a state of emergency for 20 counties on Tuesday because the weather conditions led to multiple wildfires, and fire-fighting capabilities were stretched thin.

Gov. Jay Inslee said about 50 fires were burning in Washington, and 1,000 additional National Guard troops were due to arrive, according to The Associated Press.

"This, unfortunately, is not going to be a one-day or one-week event," Inslee said.

Seventy miles to the south, another stretch of wildfires has chased people from nearly 900 homes near the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth, according to The Associated Press.

More than 45 square miles have burned in the Mills Canyon Complex — three separate blazes including the Chiwaukum Creek Fire that prompted the evacuations.

More than 800 firefighters backed by large aerial water tankers were battling the flames. Smoke from that fire has been visible from Seattle.