International help is on the way as largest fire in state’s history continues to grow

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TWISP, Wash. -- Firefighters from overseas are coming to help battle the Okanogan Complex fire -- the largest fire in Washington's history -- and other blazes around the state, officials announced Tuesday.

The Okanogan Complex grew 2.6 square miles overnight Monday and now stands at 403 square miles, or more than 250,000 acres. There are 1,345 people battling the flames, officials said. As many as 2,000 Level 3 mandatory evacuations still exist around the town of Okanogan.

The fire is about 15 percent contained.

Sixteen Australian firefighters who have arrived in the U.S. to help battle Western blazes will be assigned to the north-central Washington fire on Thursday. Fire spokesman Rick Isaacson says they are mid-level fire managers who will mostly work in support functions, although some may run bulldozers.

So many fires are burning in Washington that managers are taking extreme measures, summoning help from abroad and 200 U.S. troops from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the first such use of active-duty soldiers in nine years.

Isaacson says the Australians have similar training programs to U.S. firefighters and he doesn’t expect them to have any trouble blending in.

Last week, three firefighters were killed and four injured near Twisp. Daniel Lyon, the lone injured firefighter who remains in the hospital, is still listed in intensive care at Harborview Medical Center, officials said Tuesday.

The memorial service for three firefighters who died will be Sunday in Wenatchee.

Officials say the service will begin at 1 p.m. at the Toyota Center in the central Washington city. Tom Zbyszewski, 20, Richard Wheeler, 31, and Andrew Zajac, 26, died when their truck crashed as they tried to escape the fast-growing wildfire and flames consumed their vehicle. All three lived in north-central Washington.

Outside of the Okanagon Complex fire, more than a dozen fires still burn in Washington. In the Northeast part of the state alone, infernos such as the North Star Fire near Nespelem, the Carpenter Road Fire near Spokane Indian Reservation, the Kettle Complex Fire and the Kanisku Fire Complex actively burn.

The fires ranged from 5 percent to 95 percent contained.


Fires in Northeast Washington burning on Tuesday.

Fires in Northeast Washington burning on Tuesday.

For the latest on the size of the fires and evacuation levels in Northeastern Washington, click here. 

Fires around Lake Chelan, including the Chelan Complex Fire, the First Creek Fire and the Wolverine Fire, had burned more than 146,000 acres Tuesday. The largest fire -- the Chelan Complex -- was 40 percent contained. Around 1,150 officials worked to ward off further growth of the fires, officials said.

About 1,000 Level 3 evacuations remained in effect for residents around Lake Chelan Tuesday.

For the latest on the Chelan area fires, click here. 

Fire danger remained "Extreme" throughout much -- if not all -- of Eastern Washington Tuesday, with campfires, charcoal grills and chainsaw use prohibited. A Red Flag Warning remained in effect through 9 p.m. Tuesday, as temperatures were expected to stay high and humidity low.