Washington state is being consumed by a 'slow-motion disaster'

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is traveling to the frontline to visit the firefighters battling some of the worst fires the state has ever seen.

David Ryder/Reuters
Justin Haug, manager of the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, watches a helicopter fight the Okanogan Complex fire as it burns through the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area near Loomis, Wash., Tuesday. In north-central Washington, a cluster of deadly fires dubbed the Okanogan Complex has burned more than 258,339 acres, overtaking last year's Carlton Complex fire as the state's largest on record.

A “slow-motion disaster” is devouring Washington state.

That's how Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) described the wildfires burning up his state during a press conference in Chelan, Wash., Thursday, before traveling to the fire lines to address crews fighting the blazes that have destroyed an area nearly the size of Rhode Island this season.

Governor Inslee expressed his gratitude to the Washington crews, as well as the 71 firefighters who have come to help from as far as Australia and New Zealand, and the closer-to-home 200 active-duty troops who were dispatched from a base in Tacoma, Wash.

"They know they're in danger and this danger is persistent," he said.

Inslee said the fires were more spread out across the state than last year and so far had burned about 1,144 square miles.

"This is not just a local fire, it's a statewide slow-motion disaster," Inslee said.

MG Bret Daugherty, who commands the Washington National Guard, was traveling with Inslee. He said there were about 1,000 National Guard troops helping firefighting efforts, including 200 on the fire lines. As many as 1,300 firefighters are working to stop the blazes, with about 17 percent of the fire contained as of this writing.

This year has been one of the worst fire seasons on record in the United States, with some 11,600 square miles burned so far. It's the most area destroyed by this date in a decade.

So far, officials have counted 40 homes and 40 outbuildings destroyed by the Okanogan blaze, just south of the Canadian border, the largest fire ever recorded in the state.

"You can imagine how stretched thin everybody is," said Dan Dallas, deputy incident commander of the Okanogan fire. "We're all working without the resources that in a normal year – which I don't think there is such a thing anymore – that we might have."

Dense smoke has been a problem for crews east of the Cascade Range battling fires by helicopter and airplane. Those massive fires have grounded aid aircraft.

Crews battling a 262-square mile blaze near the town of Republic, south of the Canadian border, were also dealing with smoke as well as flames, according to fire spokesman Donnie Davis.

In Spokane County, which has nearly 500,000 residents, the air quality was deemed unhealthy, causing respiratory problems even for people far from the fire lines.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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