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Okanogan Complex: Washington Wildfire Is Now Largest in State History

The Okanogan Complex of wildfires has surpassed last year's Carlton Complex blazes, fire spokesman Rick Isaacson said Monday morning.
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The massive fire burning in north-central Washington is now the largest in state history.

The Okanogan Complex of wildfires has surpassed last year's Carlton Complex blazes, fire spokesman Rick Isaacson said Monday morning.

The blaze was measured overnight at just over 400 square miles, slightly more than the Carlton fires, which also burned in Okanogan County.

Isaacson called the record unfortunate and said the fire could burn until rain and snow season arrives.

"It's only Aug. 24th," he said. "In our district we could see this go clear to the first of November."

The Okanogan Complex grew by more than 26 square miles Sunday and is expected to grow even more in coming days.

Image: A wildfire burns outside Okanogan, Wash.
A wildfire burns outside Okanogan, Wash. on Aug. 21, 2015.RUTH FREMSON / Redux Pictures

Two of five of the complex’s individual fires merged, creating a blaze that has overtaken more than 108,000 acres, incident commander Todd Pechota said Monday. He said the entire complex is only 10 percent contained.

“We do continue to make progress, but with these fires, the only way to deal with them is like eating an elephant — one bite at a time,” Pechota said.

Officials are still trying to determine how many homes and other structures have been burned by the Okanogan Complex, which has already consumed upwards of 256,500 acres, Pachota said.

About 1,250 people are battling the wildfire, Pachota said, adding that help was continuing to “trickle in.” About 70 firefighters from Australia and New Zealand have arrived in Boise, Idaho, and are scheduled to receive protective gear before heading out to fight fires burning all over the West.

Another 700 National Guardsmen are fighting wildfires throughout Washington. Additional assets came after President Barack Obama approved an Emergency Declaration in the state Friday.

Last week, three firefighters were killed and four injured when they were overtaken while trying to escape the flames.

As crews made inroads against massive fires burning in north-central Washington some people began to assess just how damaging the huge blazes have been.

Steve Surgeon, a mechanic and scrap-metal seller, lost everything he owns except for his home on the outskirts of Okanogan. He stayed in place as the fire raced over a ridge and barreled down toward his house, flames lapping just feet from his back porch.

"I'm alive," he said with a sigh Sunday. "I shouldn't be, but I am — and that's what matters."

Sixteen large wildfires are burning across central and eastern Washington, covering more than 920 square miles. More than 200 homes have been destroyed, and more than 12,000 homes and thousands of other structures remain threatened, according to Gov. Jay Inslee’s office.

The blazes were among several large fires burning across the West, taxing firefighting resources and creating hazardous air conditions. Huge portions of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington were under air quality alert warnings due to dense smoke, according to the National Weather Service.