SEATTLE (AP) — A wildfire in a rugged area of northern Washington state near the Canadian border was one of several that chased hundreds of people from their homes Friday in the drought-stricken state, authorities said.
A spokesman for an interagency team fighting fires in Washington state said late Friday evening that officials no longer believe the fire was caused by a fatal plane crash in the vicinity.
The blaze that has burned about 7 square miles near Oroville, Washington, and a hundred acres in Canada has burned about 10 buildings, including residences, Jim Archambeault said. It is threatening about 660 homes and has forced more than 400 people to evacuate.
The cause of the fire that began Thursday afternoon just east of the Cascade Range is still under investigation, but Archambeault said it started a few hours after the plane crash.
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Bob and Helen Dickson said flames were jumping from tree to tree, sending billows of black smoke into the air when officials rushed up their driveway with red lights flashing and told them to leave. When they were able to return on Friday, “it looked like a nuclear bomb went off for miles and miles,” Bob Dickson said.
“Looks like moonscape. Black everywhere,” Dickson said in an email to The Associated Press. “Saw deer with their fawns walking aimlessly around, not knowing where to go. Three of our neighbors lost their homes, and quite a few structures just vanished.”
Bob Dickson said the area around their home at Nine Mile Ranch is still extremely smoky even after they were able to go back. There were many small fires still burning, he said.
“We feel blessed that the firefighters and air bombers saved our home” he said. “Fire retardant everywhere, but amazingly still standing.”
The wildfire near Oroville just east of the Cascade Range was one of many large wildfires burning across the West, including eight others in Washington state and others in Oregon, Idaho and California.
Hundreds of people were evacuated in Chelan in central Washington as crews fought lightning-caused blazes in and around the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest on Friday. Flames and smoke were visible from downtown Chelan. Washington officials asked for help from the state National Guard.
The federal government said wildfires have been so bad this season that the Forest Service will exhaust its firefighting budget next week and will again have to tap into other programs for more money.
A Cessna 182 heading from Oroville to Spokane with two people aboard crashed and sparked another, much smaller fire near Oroville, Archambeault said. Crews responding to the blaze discovered the wreckage Thursday and a body inside the aircraft. Investigators found a second body Friday.
Local authorities and officials with the Federal Aviation Administration went to investigate the crash, which was at an elevation of about 3,000 feet. The National Transportation Safety Board, which planned to get there by Saturday, knew the plane’s registration number but it was not immediately releasing it or the owner’s name, spokesman Peter Knutson said.
The crash happened in the same remote north-central county as one that a teenager survived in July. It took the girl two days to hike to safety after the crash killed her step-grandparents.
Tory King, a customer service worker at the Princess Center grocery store in downtown Oroville, said smoke has filled the town. “All we can see here is smoke,” she said.
Officials expected high winds in the remote region to fan the flames, said Josie Williams, spokeswoman for the Washington Incident Management Team No. 2. Most of the state is under a red-flag warning, meaning the temperatures are high and the landscape is crispy dry, Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Janet Pierce said.
The fire also posed a risk to roads, bridges, power and gas lines, and several private businesses in a state struggling with drought, which has made the parched terrain combustible. The Federal Emergency Management Agency planned to send funding to help combat the blaze.
An evacuation shelter has been set up at Oroville High School.
Follow Martha Bellisle at https://twitter.com/marthabellisle