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Weather helps firefighters gain ground on Carlton blaze, now largest in state history

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Firefighters gather near Alta Lake before heading up the canyon to start mopping up.

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6:30 p.m. Tuesday update

High relative humidity and some rain have slowed growth of the Carlton Complex Fire and allowed fire crews an opportunity to make good progress in fire line construction in some parts of the fire’s footprint.

The fire is expected to continue to spread in Black Creek drainage south toward Copper Ridge. Also, the fire is expected to continue moving in Squaw Creek and spreading along uncontrolled perimeter in Antoine Creek.

The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood warning through Wednesday for the fire area and previous burn areas due to a storm moving through the region that could bring heavy rain.

Size of the fire is 243,291 acres. There are 2,110 firefighters on the fire.

PATEROS — A sprawling wildfire that has blackened 380 square miles through the middle of Okanogan County is now the largest in state history, destroying at least 150 homes and impacting thousands of residents.

The fire has burned in and around some 760 miles of state and county roadways and has prompted various levels of evacuations for many of the 4,500 homes in the region, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said.

After several days of active and unpredictable fire behavior, cooler and wetter weather arrived on Monday to give firefighters their first foothold on the blaze that stretches roughly from Winthrop to Okanogan and down into northern Chelan County

The Carlton Complex has now reached 243,391 acres, surpassing the 1902 Yacolt Burn, which was previously the largest recorded fire in state history. That fire charred 238,920 acres in Clark, Cowlitz and Skamania counties, leveling homes and churches and killing at least 38 people.

The arrival of national-level fire management teams over the weekend has brought additional firefighters and resources, including the Army National Guard. More than 2,100 fire personnel are now assigned to the fires, with camps set up in Omak, Winthrop and Chelan. They are being helped by 18 helicopters and three airplane that scoop water.

Firefighters were able to dig and secure lines around 16 percent of the fire.  

Fire crews planned to take advantage of the weather conditions to aggressively build containment lines today.

We are throwing everything we’ve got at this fire while we’ve got this favorable weather,” said fire spokeswoman Trisha Maki.

Crews have been working around the clock for the last two days, said fire spokeswoman Suzanne Flory.

On Monday, the fire flared at its northern edge, forcing Level 3 (get out now) evacuation orders Highway 20. But Flory said crews were able to hold the fire south of the highway, which was closed this morning.

The fire also kicked up in the Carlton area Monday afternoon, leading to brief evacuation orders to leave immediately that were lifted a short time later.

We had some winds that caused our (line-building) crews to disengage for safety reasons until things settled back down,” Flory said.


Reach Michelle McNiel at 509-664-7152 or . Follow her on Twitter at @MichelMcNielWW.