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Swelling Ranks Of Firefighters Make Progress On Nation's No. 1 Priority Wildfire

The Okanogan Complex in north central Washington state is now the highest-priority wildfire in the United States.

More firefighters continue to arrive on the front lines of the nation’s highest priority wildfire. It’s the 400 square mile complex of lightning-sparked fires near the Canadian border in north central Washington dubbed the Okanogan Complex.

Reinforcements from as far away as Australia are joining the fight against the wildfire in Okanogan County. The headcount at fire camp now exceeds 1,300.

Incident commander Todd Pechota said he’s glad to have a fleet of air tankers and helicopters at his disposal, but there’s no substitute for “boots-on-the-ground.”

“I’m here to tell you that fire is still put out by a man or a woman with a hose or a shovel,” he said.

The Okanogan Complex is the biggest of 66 large fires burning across the American West. Calm to light winds in recent days are helping crews get closer to containing a lot of these fires.

Okanogan County Emergency Management said several thousand people in the rural county remain on standby to evacuate at a moment’s notice.

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.