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July 21, 2014 at 10:15 AM

Okanogan County fire now largest in state history

A small patch of smoke is blown by the wind in the aftermath of the Carlton Complex Fire, which  ravaged the land and homes on Chiliwist Road, near Malott. (Photo by Marcus Yam / The Seattle Times)

A small patch of smoke is blown by the wind in the aftermath of the Carlton Complex Fire, which ravaged the land and homes on Chiliwist Road, near Malott. (Photo by Marcus Yam / The Seattle Times) View more photos

Even as one of Washington’s wildfires became the largest in state history Monday — burning an area 4.5 times the size of Seattle —  fire crews and aid workers are bracing for the possibility that lightning could trigger a new round of fires by midweek.

“It’s tough to say, at this point, what to expect,” said Ryan Fliehman, National Weather Service meteorologist, adding that thunderstorms forecast to sweep through Central Washington on Wednesday could ease fire efforts with rain, or set a new round of fires with lightning.

The potential of more lightning-caused fires is a big concern for Zonia Quero-Ziada, manager of the Red Cross shelter in Brewster. The Red Cross opened the shelter Sunday night, anticipating the possibility that more residents will need clean water, food and other resources over the next few days.

“We hope it doesn’t happen, but if it does, we are here,” she said.

Several Spanish-speaking workers also are available to help at the shelter, said Quero-Ziada. Because most of the emergency information has been transmitted in English, she said many in the area’s large Hispanic community haven’t been getting the updates, and encouraged people to come to the shelter for information. “Usually it’s the minority groups that get sidetracked, that don’t know what’s going on,” she said.

The Carlton Complex fire in Okanogan County, which accounts for roughly three-quarters of the acreage burning in Washington, grew by about 5,000 acres Sunday to 243,000 acres, or 380 square miles.

That moved it past the 1902 Yacolt Burn in Southwest Washington, which, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, destroyed nearly 239,000 acres. The 1902 fire, with no overall firefighting effort, killed 38 people in Clark, Cowlitz and Skamania counties and destroyed 146 homes.

The charred skeleton of an all-terrain vehicle sits on the road in the aftermath of the Carlton Complex fire, which ravaged the land and homes along Chiliwist Road near Malott. (Photo by Marcus Yam / The Seattle Times)

The charred skeleton of an all-terrain vehicle sits on the road in the aftermath of the Carlton Complex fire, which ravaged the land and homes along Chiliwist Road near Malott. (Photo by Marcus Yam / The Seattle Times) View more photos

The Carlton fire has destroyed 154 structures, Gibbs said: 150 single-family homes, three multi-family residences and one commercial building.

A 67-year-old Okanogan county resident, Rob Koczewski, died of a heart attack Saturday after trying to save his Carlton-area home from flames.

As thunderstorms are forecast to move south to north through Central Washington on Wednesday, firefighters will be hoping for rain, but little lightning.

“It’s hard to know until it gets here. Some rain would be very beneficial,” said Paul Gibbs, spokesman for fire crews on the Carlton Complex fire.

But rain could bring a threat of its own,  Fliehman said, adding that heavy rains can trigger flash floods, particularly on slopes where vegetation has burned away.

Some 3,100 firefighters were battling six major wildfires in Washington, while more than 4,800 were fighting 13 fires in Oregon.

More than 1,600 were at the Carlton Complex fire, up about 200 from Sunday.

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Comments | More in General news, Weather Beat | Topics: biggest, Carlton, fire

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