Still, cooler, wetter weather is helping firefighters bring some of the state’s raging wildfires under control.

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New figures from the Okanogan County Assessor’s Office Monday peg the destruction of property by Okanogan County fires as greater than previously thought.

So far, 73 single-family residences have been destroyed, along with 75 cabins, 16 detached garages and 65 outbuildings, Assessor Scott Furman said. Previous reports indicated the loss of 45 primary residences, 49 cabins and 60 outbuildings.

The total assessed value of the lost structures is $8.1 million, Furman said.

Despite the higher counts of damage and concern that some of the state’s major blazes are a long way from being contained, recent cooler weather and light rains — and the possibility of more to come — are encouraging firefighters.

Four large fire complexes in North Central Washington, together taking in nearly 600,000 acres, remained largely the same size early Tuesday. They include:

Wildfire coverage

Wildfire growth
Twisp fire
Volunteers

• The North Star fire, 200,593 acres, 22 percent contained;

• The Tunk Block fire, 161,440 acres, 10 percent contained;

• The Okanogan complex, 144,179 acres, 30 percent contained;

• The Chelan complex, 92,516, 50 percent contained.

West of the Cascades, significant rainfall aided firefighters at the 8,505-acre Skagit complex, listed Monday as 66 percent contained. Progress there allowed for the reopening of the North Cascades Highway, though intermittent closures could be required during work on power lines and towers.

The size of the Okanogan complex, the largest fire in state history, was cut in half overnight Sunday into Monday — not by firefighting efforts, but by a decision to remove the Tunk Block fire from its acreage and have it managed with the closer North Star fire.

Sunday’s rains — about a quarter-inch over much of the area — “definitely slowed the progress” of the Okanogan complex fires, said Bernie Pineda, spokesman with the fire-management team.

“We’re fully taking advantage of the break in the weather,” Pineda said. That includes doing flights over the fire lines — dropping water or fire retardant — enabled by showers and breezes that helped clear out smoke from affected areas.

Some firefighters were redeployed to put additional emphasis in areas where structures are threatened.

Progress also is being made where firefighters light fires to burn vegetation in areas before the advancing blazes reach them.

Skies were clear Monday morning, but the National Weather Service forecast calls for a 40 percent chance of rain over much of the area.

 

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Dave Hilton expressed frustration with the fire crew management in the area as he surveyed the burned-out wreck of his mother’s home in Okanogan. He says the fire crept slowly and unaddressed for days before the wind changed and the fire raged down the hill. Read more. (Bettina Hansen & Lauren Frohne / The Seattle Times)    

On the North Star fire, fire spokesman Donnie Davis said cooler weather is helping firefighting. Highs expected in the upper 60s are about 20 degrees below where they were when the fires were expanding rapidly last week.

Davis said areas of the North Star fire got only about 0.15 inch of rain, less than it usually takes to penetrate the forest canopy and get water down to the dry vegetation on the forest floor.

But the increase in humidity helps retard fire growth, he said. Relative humidity was between 35 and 45 percent Monday, up from readings in the teens last week.

The Twisp River fire, which killed three firefighters when it changed directions Aug. 19, is now 98 percent contained, according to the National Fire Incident Information System. Its 11,222 acres are included in the Okanogan complex total.

Another positive piece of news came Monday, Davis said. Residents of the small town of Nespelem, population of about 200, were being allowed to return home after two weeks of evacuation.

Their evacuation status was moved from Level 3, which means leave immediately, to Level 2, which means be prepared to leave.

Davis said the town of Republic, about six miles from the fire, also is on a Level 2 evacuation.