Obama signs disaster declaration for wildfire-scorched Washington state

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement on the situation in Iraq from his vacation home at Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts August 11, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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By Victoria Cavaliere SEATTLE (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Tuesday approved federal disaster aid for wildfire-scorched Washington state, as the U.S. West Coast struggles with a near-record fire season that experts say will likely worsen in the coming weeks. The declaration allows federal aid to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts in parts of Washington that were affected by wildfires between July 9 and Aug. 5. The order did not approve a request for individual assistance to affected homeowners in central Washington, a decision Governor Jay Inslee said he would appeal. Last month, the state saw its largest wildfire in history when the Carlton Complex scorched some 251,000 acres east of the Cascade mountain range. About 350 dwellings were destroyed and some communities in the Methow Valley, home to about 10,000 people, were ravaged, fire crews said. About a dozen wildfires were burning in the state on Tuesday, the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center said. The West Coast fire season, which runs from May to October, is on track to break records for both the number of blazes and acres burned, according to fire teams. The worst part of the season is expected later this month, and in September, amid ongoing heat and a long-term drought in California, Oregon and Washington, said Carol Connolly, spokeswoman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. "So far this year, over a million acres have burned in Oregon and Washington," Connolly said. "Our record year was 2012 with 1.2 million acres. So we are on track to break a record." High temperatures, gusty winds and lightning strikes prompted the National Weather Service to issue a fire weather alert for Monday and Tuesday in most of Washington and Oregon. Northern California firefighters were continuing to battle dozens of blazes. On Monday, three firefighters had to deploy personal fire shelters when a sudden wind sent the Beaver Fire in Klamath National Forest roaring over their location, said Forest Service spokesman Corey Wilford. They were treated for minor injuries at a local hospital and released, Wilford said. That blaze has burned 45 square miles near the Oregon border and was 30 percent contained. Officials have ordered mandatory evacuations of 150 homes and 50 businesses. The Whites Fire near the Northern California town of Yreka, about 20 miles from the Oregon border, had grown to 20,000 acres and was zero percent contained, said Don Ferguson, a spokesman for the team fighting the fire. "When you have these conditions, lots of breeze, plenty of sunlight in drought conditions, the fire pretty much dominates the environment," Ferguson said. In neighboring Oregon, firefighters attacked dozens of new wildfires sparked by lightning overnight and were unable to contain two blazes that were growing fast on Tuesday, fire officials said. Meanwhile, the South Fork Complex of fires, which has been burning in central Oregon since July, grew overnight to 64,300 acres, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Nearby residents are on standby in case of evacuation, it said. (Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere in Seattle, Courtney Sherwood in Portland, Oregon, and Mary Papenfuss in San Francisco; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Edith Honan and Eric Beech)

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