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Dozens of Washington wildfires force hundreds to flee; wide power outages

by Joseph O’Sullivan, Lynda Mapes and Elise Takahara, Seattle Times |

GRAHAM, Wash. — Fierce winds and dry, hot weather sparked dozens of wildfires throughout Washington state Monday and Tuesday, filling the Seattle area with smoke, forcing hundreds of families to flee their homes and knocking out power in thousands of others. One Washington town was nearly destroyed by a blaze south of Spokane.

The fires made for miserable air quality in parts of Western Washington, after the blazes erupted on both sides of the Cascades. Fire crews in California and Oregon also battled fast-moving flames, prompting mass evacuations.

Gov. Jay Inslee said in a Tuesday news conference about 330,000 acres had burned in the previous 24 hours, more than double the acreage burned last year in Washington. Crews were still working on nine “significant” fires in the state as of Tuesday afternoon.

“This is an unprecedented and heartbreaking event … We’re living in a new world. This is not the old Washington,” Inslee said Tuesday. “A fire that you might’ve seen that was going to be OK over time isn’t OK anymore because the conditions are so dry, they’re so hot, they’re so windy — because the climate has changed.”

Inslee hasn’t declared an emergency in any counties, but said he was considering taking further action to speed up assistance to those in need.

West of the Cascades, a brush fire tore through a neighborhood in Graham, while another fire burned Tuesday in a forested area near Enumclaw and Highway 410.

The Graham fire forced about 100 people to evacuate Monday and destroyed six homes and a few other structures, according to Steve Richards, assistant chief for Graham Fire and Rescue. No injuries were reported.

By Monday night, easterly winds were pushing smoke into the Seattle area, and it kept coming all night long.

Sunrise looked more like sunset Tuesday morning, with the sun rising big and orange, and casting coppery light over the morning landscape, as the sun’s rays filtered through smoke.