Canadians on their way to help fight Washington wildfires

SEATTLE - Washington and Oregon crews just aren't big enough for the wildfires in Washington state, so officials are calling Canada for help.

More than 100 firefighters and support crew were expected to arrive Sunday and Monday, said Carol Connolly, a spokeswoman for the Northwest Coordination Center, who manages forest fires in Washington and Oregon.

The Canadians, from British Columbia, are joining about 3,500 Washington and Oregon crews fighting five large fires in Washington state. U.S. officials are also talking to Alberta officials about sending more firefighters.

"I think it's kind of neat the crews from Canada are coming down to help us," Connolly said.

She said the two countries work out these agreements during the winter - "and hope we never have to use them."

Another 800 people from the Northwest are fighting fires in other states, mostly in Idaho, California and Montana, Connolly said.

The number of big wildfires across the nation this season has drained resources, she said. More than 14,000 people have fought wildfires in the United States this season.

Every available firefighter in Washington and Oregon is already fighting fires and more people are needed, she said. All of Washington's current big wildfires started during a Sept. 8 lightning storm.

The largest wildfire in Washington state is a complex of fires burning over about one square mile in the Wenatchee area. The Wenatchee complex is only 17 percent contained and has forced hundreds of people out of their homes.

A majority of the 700 homes were under an evacuation order Sunday because they were in imminent danger, Connolly said.

Evacuations were also ordered near two other fires: the Yakima complex burning on about 6,000 acres and the Okanogan complex, which is burning on north of Wenatchee on nearly 4,000 acres.

The Cascade Creek complex of fires was burning on about 6,000 acres. Washington's fifth-largest wildfire complex, the 3-square-mile Barker Canyon Fire, was nearly surrounded by Sunday, Connolly said.

Watch for deer

Wildlife officials are also warning Wenatchee residents they may have some unexpected visitors this fall and winter as deer displaced by the wildfires come into their yards looking for food.

The Wenatchee World reports fires in the foothills have ravaged the mule deer's normal feeding grounds.

Wildlife officials say it's too early to know how badly those lands have been affected.

Von Pope of the Chelan County PUD says in addition to the fires, other factors include how hard this winter will be and how much vegetation comes back up this fall. The PUD owns 960 acres of land.

Fire officials say the area remains extremely dry and conditions are right for rapid fire growth on existing fires and new fire starts. All outdoor burning is restricted and campfires are only allowed in designated campgrounds on federal lands.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has mandated that all outdoor burning including campfires are banned in all counties east of the Cascades through midnight, Sept. 18.