‘I have my life': Residents take stock amid insatiable fires

The Okanogan Complex of wildfires on Sunday was measured at about 374 square miles. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's office says more than 200 homes have been destroyed.

Brian Skoloff/AP
Steve Surgeon surveys the ruins after he lost everything he owned except his home in a wildfire on the outskirts of Okanogan, Wash., Sunday. He said he stayed as the fire raced over a ridge and barreled down toward his home, flames lapping just feet from his back porch. Surgeon estimates he lost more than $100,000 worth of property, including his shop, his motorcycle, several cars, a travel trailer, and all of his tools

As firefighters battle massive blazes in Okanogan County in northern Washington state, some residents are being forced to reassess what they hold dear.

Steve Surgeon, a mechanic and scrap-metal seller told The Associated Press on Sunday that he lost everything except for his home on the outskirts of Okanogan. He stayed in his house while flames were just feet from his porch.

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

Mr. Surgeon estimates he lost more than $100,000 in property in fire, but he is happy for being alive.

“I have my life and I have my home," he said. "Everything else can be replaced."

A series of ongoing wildfires in Washington have destroyed more than 200 homes, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's office announced on Sunday.

The Okanogan Complex of wildfires on Sunday was measured at about 374 square miles and was estimated to be about 10 percent contained, fire spokesman Dan Omdal said.

But the good news is that some of the smoky haze that had blanked the area began to dissipate on Sunday, enabling officials to lift restrictions on air travel and allow more fire tankers to drop water and chemical retardant on the blaze from above, according to Suzanne Flory, spokeswoman for the US Forest Service.

She also added that the air quality, which has been dangerously bad, will improve as the smoke cloud lifts.

Still, Sarah Miller, a spokeswoman with Okanogan County Emergency Management, says that residents have been warned to stay ready to leave at any time.

Currently, more than 1,000 people are fighting the Okanogan blazes and President Obama has signed a federal declaration of emergency for the state. On Wednesday, three young firefighters were killed battling the blazes near Twisp in Okanogan County and four were injured.

Firefighters have come from around the country as well as from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to fight the fires burning through the West. As The Christian Science Monitor’s Brad Knickerbocker reported on Saturday:

Contingents are scheduled to arrive this weekend from Australia and New Zealand. Five wildland fire suppression crews from Ontario, Canada, and air tanker groups from Saskatchewan and Alberta are supporting fire suppression efforts in the Northern Rockies of Montana and Idaho.

Local officials in Okanogan have downgraded some evacuation notices, allowing some people to return to their homes, but thousands still remain under evacuation.

This report contains material from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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