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The Okanogan complex wildfire — Washington’s largest ever — is currently  reported as 95 percent contained. The Chelan complex fire is 98 percent under control. The big whoosh you hear? A collective sigh of relief across Central Washington.

For the second year in a row, it’s been a terrible summer for wildfires in our state’s heartland, inflicting scars on the land and people.

Economic harm to tourism centers has been huge. In a season when families from Kent or Bellevue would normally have been slurping ice cream or renting mountain bikes, Winthrop and Twisp were evacuated. A pall of choking smoke draped Lake Chelan. The North Cascades Highway — and much of the North Cascades National Park complex — closed during the peak of visitor season.

The region’s first, best hope for recovery? A surge of autumn visitors.

Follow along this week as I drive across the North Cascades to take a look at what awaits travelers in the fires’ wake. What’s open, what’s not? What was burned, what untouched? How hearty is the welcome? Starting Tuesday, I’ll be talking to locals and posting lots of photos from Newhalem, Winthrop, Twisp and Chelan.

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