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Washington Evacuees Have Dealt With Fires Before, But 'Not Like This'


A blaze in Okanogan County, Washington, that Governor Jay Inslee called a “firestorm” has destroyed around 100 homes. Now, Inslee says 1,000 National Guard troops will take a crash-course in wildfire fighting so they can be deployed to central Washington fires.

"We're lucky because they are on duty and in a place they can be trained," Inslee said. "So we are going to bring trainers from the Department of Natural Resources to train them as rapidly as possible to be available -- not just now, but for the rest of the summer."

One hundred other guardsmen who are already certified in firefighting are awaiting assignments to relieve tired fire crews. In past fire seasons, National Guard ground troops were sent out in a support capacity to the professional firefighters on the front lines.

Separately, the Washington National Guard has deployed six helicopters with water buckets to assist the fire fight.

Governor Inslee flew to Wenatchee Friday afternoon to see the response to several massive wildfires first hand. Fires in the so-called Carlton Complex have been scaling ridge lines and in some places, jumping the Okanogan River. Parts of the Methow Valley and the entire town of Pateros are under evacuation orders.

Kathleen Allen evacuated her home s home south of Malott, Washington at 1 a.m. Friday morning. She said they've had nearby fires before.

“We've had to be aware, but not like this," Allen said. "Not where the whole north to south was all on fire and coming down and coming to the river and houses across the river from us, they've all burned -- that's what my son just told me.”

Allen described 12-foot-high flames coming out of her vineyard as she was leaving. She doesn't know if her house is still standing.

There are at least 27 large, uncontained fires burning across Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Crews are bracing for extreme fire activity to continue until the arrival of cooler weather promised for the weekend.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.