Before the 200 active-duty Soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord could arrive to augment wildland firefighters on the ground, three U.S. Forest Service firefighters lost their lives in the fight. The news came in late yesterday.
The Department of Natural Resources initially reported there had been burn victims in Okanogan County around 4:30 p.m. yesterday. It wasn’t until about 6:30 p.m. local time, that news was released to media sources that three USFS members had died. The incident is under investigation but initial reports indicate the firefighters were involved in some type of vehicle accident; fire overtook that vehicle before the firefighters could be rescued.
About 8 p.m. last night, wildland fires forced the immediate evacuation of the Town of Twisp. Authorities said the evacuation order was not precautionary. The changing winds and momentum of the fire left no other option. Closer to Chelan, National Guard units helped set controlled burns to use up fuel as helicopters dropped water from above. The air quality around Chelan, Spokane, and Ellensburg has kept residents inside for days.
Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State has asked President Barack Obama to declare a federal emergency in the state. As of Wednesday more than 100 wildfires had spread over 1.1 million acres in the western states of Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Washington, and California.
Names of the firefighters who died last night have not been released. According to various news sources there were at least two other firefighters injured in that same incident.
In a note just in from USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack:
“On Wednesday night, we received the news that three U.S. Forest Service firefighters lost their lives battling a wildfire near the town of Twisp, Washington. We mourn the loss of the brave firefighters whose commitment to duty was so deep that they gave their own lives to protect others. We also extend our profound sympathies to the families and loved ones of the fallen, whose sacrifices are equally worthy of honor, and our thoughts and prayers are with those who are recovering from injuries sustained in the line of duty. As we press on through an extraordinarily challenging wildfire season, we are reminded yet again of the perils our firefighters face as they protect communities from wildfire. Our firefighting personnel have been particularly hard hit this year and we’ve lost several lives. We continue to mourn for them and offer support to their families. On behalf of the American people, thank you to those who keep us safe.”
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