Carlton, WA resident Rob Koczewski, a retired U.S. Marine and Washington State Patrol trooper, died of a heart attack as he fought to save he and his wife’s home from the large Carlton Complex Fire. As of Sunday, that fire has burned through more than 238,000 acres and destroyed 150 homes. More than 1,300 state, local and federal workers are fighting the fire, which is burning about 120 miles northeast of Seattle.
Pateros, a town in Okanogan County, WA, was hit especially hard by the fire, with several of the town’s 650 residents losing their homes. Pateros resident David Brownlee said he drove away from his home Thursday just in time to see it be engulfed in flames.
“It was just a funnel of fire,” Brownlee said. “All you could do was watch her go.”
The Carlton Complex Fire started out as four lightning-sparked fires early last week, which merged into one fire Thursday and grew to nearly 336 square miles by Saturday. Now, the fire is moving away from more heavily-populated areas into forested regions.
Meanwhile, on Sunday morning, the Watermelon Hill Fire burning southwest of Spokane, WA grew from 5,000 acres to 13,000 acres. As of Sunday at noon, the fire was zero percent contained and threatened 100 structures. About 279 firefighters are fighting to contain the fire. And the Chiwaukum Creek Fire, which is burning west of Leavenworth, WA, grew to more than 10,000 acres Sunday morning, forcing residents in the fire’s path to evacuate and a highway to close.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee instituted a ban on most outdoor and agricultural burning for 20 of his state’s counties Sunday, in the hopes that more fires won’t be started.
“Weather conditions including high winds, lightening and high temperatures continue to make conditions extremely challenging,” Inslee said in a statement. “Our resources are stretched thin and fire crews are doing everything possible. We must take every possible precaution to reduce the risk of additional fires.”
Cooler temperatures and quieter winds are forecasted for early this week, however, and may aid in firefighting efforts. Rain is forecasted for much of the state on Wednesday, but lightning is predicted too, making it hard to tell whether the weather front will help or hurt firefighting in the state.
Climate change has long been predicted to make wildfires more common and more intense in parts of the U.S., and already, fire seasons in the country are two months longer on average than they used to be. Washington isn’t the only state to be wracked by wildfires in recent months — California, too, has battled extreme drought and fires, as has Oregon.