The three firefighters killed in the Twisp fire last week after their vehicle crash died from smoke and burns, the local coroner said Friday.
The three firefighters killed in a wildfire near Twisp, Okanogan County, last week died from smoke inhalation and “thermal injuries,” or burns, Okanogan County Coroner Dave Rodriguez said Friday.
The firefighters were driving up a steep gravel road and crashed down a 40-foot embankment, where the fire consumed them. The manner of death was classified as accidental.
Those killed Aug. 19 were Richard Wheeler, 31, Andrew Zajac, 26, and Tom Zbyszewski, 20. A memorial service is planned Sunday in Wenatchee. Another firefighter injured in the crash, Daniel Lyon, 25, remains in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center. He had a successful burn surgery earlier this week and is “stable in intensive care,” according to the hospital’s spokeswoman Susan Gregg.
Officials Friday said the Okanogan complex fire has destroyed at least 45 primary residences, 49 cabins and 60 outbuildings. Okanogan Power Utility District estimated about 216 miles of power lines have been affected, and that it will take several weeks before power is fully restored to people in the Tunk Mountain areas, according to a news release.
Firefighters from Australia and New Zealand, meanwhile, have arrived to fight the growing North Central Washington fires.
About a dozen international firefighters arrived to help with the Okanogan complex fires Thursday night, said Rick Isaacson, a public-information officer.
At least two were at the Friday morning briefing at the nearby North Star fires, said Kathy Moses, a public-information officer for those fires.
Extra help was welcome as both fires continued their steady growth: The Okanogan fire was more than 302,000 acres (about 470 square miles). The North Star fire to the east was about 193,000 acres (300 square miles).
Isaacson said Okanogan complex firefighters had the “typical problems we have every afternoon when the temperature warms. We get a little inversion lift and the forest kind of wakes up and takes off,” he said.
Some of the increased growth of the North Star fire is due to controlled burns meant to slow the fire’s spread.
The fire has been moving toward the Republic, Ferry County area. Some areas outside of town remain under Level 3 evacuations. Gov. Jay Inslee urged residents around the state to get out if ordered.
On Saturday, a cold front is expected to bring high winds to the Okanogan complex fire — the largest in state history — but officials do not expect a repeat of the extreme spotting and flare-ups that occurred last week when winds surged.
That’s because this time, the winds will be accompanied by lower temperatures and higher humidity that should tamp things down.
“We’re really optimistic,” said Sierra Helstrom, a public-information officer for the fire. “It is a completely different forecast from what we were looking at last week when we had the combination of heat, low humidity and high winds. Tomorrow we’re only getting one of the three.”
Predictions earlier this week for a “wetting” rain look optimistic now, Isaacson said.
“We have rain coming in, and as they describe it to us, it’s a 10 to 12 inch rain — that’s spaced every 10 to 12 inches apart. It’s not very much.”
Moses said winds are expected to be 25 to 45 mph in the North Star area Saturday.
In a bit of good news, the North Cascades Highway is expected to reopen on Sunday, along with facilities and trails in North Cascades National Park.
The popular scenic highway in North Central Washington has been closed for more than a week because of a wildfire near the small community of Newhalem, Whatcom County.
The fire is part of what’s called the Upper Skagit complex of wildfires.