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New details emerge about incident in which 3 firefighters died, 4 were injured

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TWISP, Wash. (AP) -- More details are emerging about the incident in which three firefighters died while battling huge wildfires in north-central Washington.

Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said Friday a group of firefighters tried to escape the flames from the Twisp River Road Fire in two vehicles and on foot.

One vehicle made it out of danger Wednesday, but the other vehicle crashed and was overrun by flames. That's the vehicle in which the three firefighters died.

Rogers said the four firefighters who were injured, one critically, were among those who had to escape on foot.

Rogers said it is not clear when the county coroner will release the cause of death of the three firefighters.

One of the firefighters critically injured underwent his first surgery Friday.

Susan Gregg, a spokeswoman for Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, says Daniel Lyon of Puyallup went through a surgery on Friday that sought to remove damaged tissue.

Lyon, a 25-year-old reserve police officer in Milton, suffered mostly third-degree burns over 60 percent of his body.

Meanwhile, out-of-control blazes in north-central Washington have destroyed buildings, but the situation is so chaotic that authorities have "no idea" how many homes may have been lost.

Rogers said Friday that "we have lost them, but I don't know how many."

The complex of fires that killed three firefighters earlier this week has blown up, growing more than 100 square miles in a day to 252 square miles.

A National Weather Service warning of extreme fire danger was set to expire at 5 p.m. Friday, which may bring some relief to firefighters.

Evacuation levels in the fire weary towns of Twisp and Tonasket were reduced to Level 2 Friday morning, meaning residents could return to their homes for the time being.

The Okanogan County Emergency Management announced the news on their Facebook page Friday.

Though evacuation levels were reduced, officials encouraged caution, and for residents to be prepared to leave at any moment. Tonasket has a population of around 1,000 people. Twisp is home to around 900 people.

Other fires were burning near Lake Chelan. The Washington National Guard released a video of one of their helicopters making water drops on the First Creek Fire near Chelan.

The news came just before President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration for Washington state, opening the door for federal aid.

The order allows FEMA to authorize aid, and help provide resources necessary for fighting the fire. Emergency protective measures, limited to direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent federal funding.

The President's action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the counties of Asotin, Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Klickitat, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Spokane, Stevens, and Yakima and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, the Spokane Tribe of Indians, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakima Nation.

A Level 3 mandatory evacuation notice remained for areas near the north-central Washington community of Okanogan Friday. The Okanogan County Emergency Management department sent out the orders around 2 a.m. PDT.

The department told The Associated Press that the orders were for parts of the northwest outskirts of town. The area was described as populated, but it wasn’t immediately clear how many people were affected.

Officials have been warning that strong winds were complicating firefighting efforts.

Minnesota is dispatching two Blackhawk helicopters and 14 associated personnel to help fight the wildfires in Washington state.  Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order Friday to provide the assistance in a state dealing with widespread fires that are chewing up hundreds of thousands of acres.