The North Star fire grew another 13,000 acres, forcing areas south of Republic to evacuate.

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The North Star fire, on the Colville Indian Reservation, has forced the evacuation of areas south of Republic, Ferry County, and threatens more than 2,000 structures.

Information officer Kathy Moses said Wednesday the fire had grown to more than 168,000 acres — an increase of about 13,000 acres from Tuesday reports. The fire is about 5 miles from Republic, she said.

The Ferry County Sheriff’s Office issued Level 3 notices, urging people to evacuate immediately.

So far, Moses said no structures have burned and no firefighters have been injured in the wildfire, which has been burning for more than a week.

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Twisp fire
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The fire did not calm down Tuesday as night fell. “It’s not slowing down … It’s continuing to burn,” she said.

Firefighters are concerned the growing North Star fire could merge with the Tunk Block fire, which is part of the Okanogan complex. Rick Isaacson, a spokesman for the Okanogan complex, said the Tunk Block fire has been moving toward the North Star fire.

“They’re trying to hold (the Tunk Block’s east side) and keep that in place. There are houses in between,” Isaacson said.

The fires were about 5 miles away from one another Wednesday morning, Isaacson said. On Tuesday, they were 6.5 miles apart.

Isaacson said some firefighters have worked 14 days straight and will leave camp for two days of rest. A new incident-management team will assume responsibility of the Tunk Block fire, he said, so it can be managed in concert with the North Star fire.

“Those two fires are getting closer and closer together and may or may not merge. It gives them a better way to handle it together,” Isaacson said.

Overall, the Okanogan fires grew to more than 280,000 acres by Wednesday night. Although the fire is growing, Isaacson said firefighters have “a very good handle” on controlling the blazes. Sheriff’s officials report the fires have destroyed 40 homes and 40 other structures.

Firefighters were mostly mopping up the Twisp River fire, now at least 85 percent contained. As smoke cleared Tuesday, helicopters were able to dump water on the other fires.

“I was jumping up and down when the helicopter went over with joy. Three days without air support was very discouraging, and all of a sudden you get it, it’s great,” Isaacson said. “We’re getting a lot better progress now.”

The weather forecast looks mostly favorable to firefighters.

Weak winds have allowed smoke to collect around the fires, suppressing them, said National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Van Horn.

“Tomorrow, we are expecting winds to increase a bit, somewhere around the range of 10 to 20 mile per hour,” Van Horn said. “That should definitely help at least get the smoke out of there, which would also impact the fire activity.”

This weekend, a cold front is supposed to pass through the region. There’s a chance it will provide a much-needed “wetting rain.”

“Some of our models are showing near a quarter-inch or even higher in the Cascades, so that would be good for the fires,” Van Horn said.

Although the storms won’t bring much lightning, he said gusty winds are expected east of the Cascades.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell will lead a public hearing Thursday in Seattle about improving the federal government’s response to wildfires.

As the ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Cantwell organized the field hearing to hear testimony from experts on wildfire and land management.

Cantwell is developing legislation to improve federal response and planning for fires and to increase funding for controlled burns and other methods to make federal forests less vulnerable to massive blazes.

Federal and state firefighting budgets and land management have come under scrutiny in the wake of the fires that have scorched more than 900,000 acres in Washington this year.

Among those expected to testify Thursday are state Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, Kittitas County Commissioner Gary Berndt and representatives of fire-safety groups.

Republican Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, who chairs the subcommittee on public lands and forests, also will attend.

The hearing starts at 11:30 a.m. at Seattle University’s Campion Hall, 915 E. Jefferson St. No testimony from the general public will be taken.