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Firefighters Advance on Biggest Wildfire on Record in 1 U.S. State's History

Firefighters gained ground on Tuesday against the largest wildfire in Washington state's history but the massive blaze that has destroyed 200 homes continued to threaten some communities and forced a fresh round of evacuations. The Carlton Complex fire burning east of the Cascade Mountains and 120 miles (190 km) northeast of Seattle, was 16 percent contained on Tuesday, more than a week after it was sparked by lightning, officials said.

By Victoria Cavaliere

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Firefighters gained ground on Tuesday against the largest wildfire in Washington state's history but the massive blaze that has destroyed 200 homes continued to threaten some communities and forced a fresh round of evacuations.

The Carlton Complex fire burning east of the Cascade Mountains and 120 miles (190 km) northeast of Seattle, was 16 percent contained on Tuesday, more than a week after it was sparked by lightning, officials said.

The massive blaze charred 243,000 acres, or 380 square miles (980 square km), the largest fire in the state's history, according to Larry Weaver, a spokesman for agencies working to contain the blaze.

"There's increased progress," Weaver said. "We are very cognizant of weather changes, and the fire is still a dangerous active fire."

About 18 wildfires are currently burning across the Pacific Northwest, many triggered by lightning and expanding rapidly amid dry conditions in parts of California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

The Carlton Complex fire has been a special concern to emergency officials because of its proximity to towns and cities in Washington's Methow Valley, home to about 10,000 people.

More than 2,000 firefighters, backed by air support, were building containment lines, aided by dropping temperatures and low wind. Rain is forecast for Wednesday, but the lightning it could bring raised concerns.

Even as evacuation notices were downgraded or dropped in some areas, new recommendations were put into place late on Monday for about 100 residents in the community of Carlton.

Residents of rural areas including Pleasant Valley and Leader Lake, Alpine Lake, and White Rock Road were also urged to leave.

Emergency crews, which were continuing to assess damage, said about 200 homes had been lost. More than 1,200 homes and dwellings were evacuated at the height of the blaze.

The fire was also blamed for one fatality, a 67-year-old man who died on Saturday while trying to protect his home.

Dozens of power lines were destroyed across the region, leaving electricity and communication inconsistent or down in some areas, according to the Okanogan County Sheriff's Office.

The Carlton blaze was still smaller than the Buzzard Complex fire raging in neighboring Oregon. At 395,000 acres (160,000 hectares) and 85 percent containment, that fire was still considered extremely dangerous and had caused smoke conditions in rural communities hours away, according the Bureau of Land Management.

 

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Eric Beech)

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