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3 Firefighters Killed While Battling Wildfires In Washington State


Three firefighters with the U.S. Forest Service have been killed battling a wildfire in north central Washington state. Fires now cover more than 200,000 acres in the region with ongoing road closures and as many as 5,000 homes under evacuation orders. More dangerous fire conditions are expected in the coming days. Northwest Public Radio's Rowan Moore Gerety reports on conditions in the area and what is known as about how the first responders died.

ROWAN MOORE GERETY, BYLINE: It's believed the firefighters' vehicle crashed and was overtaken by flames Wednesday as a fast-moving fire shifted directions. Okanogan County Emergency Management spokesperson Angela Seydel confirmed the deaths this morning.


ANGELA SEYDEL: We had a fire start yesterday afternoon, and unfortunately that resulted in the death of three firefighters and injuries to others.

GERETY: Those four firefighters were injured working on the ground nearby. One remains in critical condition at a hospital in Seattle with burns covering 60 percent of his body. All told, more than 10 separate fires are burning throughout this vast county of grassland and dry forests. At the incident command center, Seydel says volunteers and emergency personnel have been working in shifts.

SEYDEL: People are putting in a valiant effort to stay here and be here for their communities, but yes, we're having folks having to rotate to go check on their own homes.

GERETY: RVs dot the parking lot at a local Wal-Mart where public health nurse Bryan Piper greeted evacuees with dust masks to minimize exposure to smoke.

BRYAN PIPER: Good morning. Would these be of help to you, to have a dust mask to - once it gets really bad here later?

GERETY: A number of local officials from nearby Riverside camped out in this parking lot after their town was evacuated last night. Although Okanogan County was home to the largest wildfire in Washington state history just last year, town clerk Sharma Dickinson says these fires feel different.

SHARMA DICKINSON: I've never seen a fire rage through so many towns. This is something that happens in California, not in the Evergreen State.

GERETY: Dickinson spent yesterday handing out food and water at the local fire station, and she says she was the first to tell many firefighters three others had died.

DICKINSON: It devastated every firefighter that came into our station to fuel, to water, to eat, to drink.

GERETY: The National Weather Service has issued a red-flag warning for winds and high temperatures in the region, and firefighters are bracing for more extreme fire behavior through Friday night. For NPR News, I'm Rowan Moore Gerety and in Omak, Wash. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rowan Moore Gerety joined KAZU as a news reporter in 2012. In addition to his reports on KAZU, Rowan is a regular contributor to Marketplace. He has written for the Atlantic, Slate, Foreign Policy, Guernica, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Common, among others, and produced radio stories for All Things Considered, Living on Earth, and the California Report. He served as the launch editor for the African Makers series on Medium, a collection of writing about creativity in business and social welfare around Africa. He studied anthropology at Columbia University, was a 2011-2012 Fulbright Scholar in Mozambique, a 2013 International Reporting Project (IRP) fellow in Nigeria, and received a 2013 Jon Davidoff scholarship at the Wesleyan Writers Conference.