Weather

Three killed, four injured fighting 'Hell Storm" near Twisp

SPOKANE, Wash. - Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said Wednesday evening three firefighters have been killed and three to four more have been injured while battling raging wildfires.

According to the Washington Department of Natural Resources, the three Forest Service deaths occurred in a wildfire on DNR land near Twisp, Washington.  The firefighters were fighting the fire and were involved in a vehicle accident when it is believed that the fire overtook the vehicle.

DNR confirmed that four additional firefighters were injured: one USFS, two DNR, and one DNR contractor.

Rogers called the dire situation these firefighters faced near Twisp a "Hell Storm," with the fire racing across the ground, being blown in all directions by the winds. He confirmed the people who died were on the fire lines fighting the fire when they died.

"We know the firefighters that were injured and the firefighters that were killed in this thing, they were up here fighting an active fire," he said. "Where they were at was active fire. We do know three to four, could have been even more we just know three to four that we were told did receive burns and we know about the three confirmed deaths because we're on scene now."

Officials know who the firefighters are who were killed and they have talked with their command staff. The plan now is to notify their families.

"Right now, my Number One concern is these families and I want them notified before anybody else," Rogers said.

Officials will conduct an investigation into their deaths and let firefighters figure out what happened. He added.

In a statement released Wednesday evening, Gov. Jay Inslee said his heart is broken over the loss of life and that conditions remain extremely dangerous.

"I was just told that three firefighters died while battling the Twisp fire and four were injured. My heart breaks over the loss of life. I know all Washington joins me and Trudi in sending our prayers to the families of these brave firefighters. They gave their lives to protect others. It was their calling, but the loss for their families is immense and I know the community will come together to support them. We will also keep the injured firefighters in our prayers. The conditions throughout the area remain extremely dangerous and I hope residents and visitors will heed evacuation orders or other emergency directions," Inslee said in a statement.

Patty Murray tweet

Earlier in the day authorities urged Twisp residents to evacuate because of a fast-moving wildfire. The Okanogan County Emergency Management department issued the order for the town of roughly 900 people Wednesday afternoon and firefighters braced for high winds in the forecast through Friday that threatened to stoke wildfires burning across Eastern Washington.

Meanwhile back in Olympia, Gov. Inslee has requested a federal emergency declaration to provide additional resources to cover some of costs related to multiple wildfires burning in Eastern Washington.

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Right now, 11 counties and four tribes are threatened or affected by fires, which have burned 50 homes, 60 outbuildings and other structures and more than 235,000 acres.

"Our communities are still healing from last year's fires," Inslee said. "Tonight we heard the heartbreaking news that three firefighters died while battling the Twisp fire and others are injured. Communities in Eastern Washington are strong and coming together, but need help. The current fires will exacerbate the ongoing housing shortages and economic troubles felt throughout the region. We're doing everything we can to assess the damage and work with our partners to obtain additional federal assistance."

Back up in the Methow Valley, Sheriff Rogers said that fire crews are continuing to hit the fire lines and stop its advance.

"The fire's now past us and it's now moving towards Twisp. It's not at Twisp; it's still got a ways to go. It's still active. There's still firefighters over there, my guys are over there, helicopters and planes still hitting it. It's not going out tonight … the winds are still blowing," he said.


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