President Barack Obama declared a State of Emergency in Washington State due to the fires ravaging the area. Firefighters from as far away as New Zealand are helping 29,000 firefighters battle wildfires across the West, as are the soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, who are set to deploy on Sunday, August 23.
The declaration of emergency set the path for FEMA funds to be dispersed into Washington areas hit hard by the fires. Washington had 13 large fires at the time, Idaho 17, with raging flames that were forcing evacuations in North Idaho, Western Montana, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, and California.
Three firefighters battling the fires in Twisp, Washington, died last week, and four others were injured. Fox wrote,
The men who died battling the Washington blaze, Tom Zbyszewki, 20, Andrew Zajac, 26 and Richard Wheeler, 31 were members of an elite crew that scoped out the size of a wildfire before other firefighters were sent in. Their vehicle crashed Wednesday and, before they could escape, flames rolled over them. Four other firefighters nearby were injured, one critically.
Some poignant fire pictures are posted from Instagram users at this link: wildfires.
A personal note:
Pictures do not truly convey the scope and power of wildfires. Once while traveling in Northern California during a dry year, our car was stopped by Forest Service officials on I-80. Crews were battling a forest fire /range fire that had covered the area in thick smoke to the point where you could hardly see the road. When you are watching it from close up, the feeling is indescribable.
Residents stood on rooftops with tiny hoses, desperately trying to keep their homes from burning to the ground. The fire raged across the forest, crowned out in the treetops, creating its own wind as it went, ravaging the land. Firefighters fanned out across the fire line, doing everything in their power to stop the giant conflagration. One lone helicopter (a huge one that looked small against the raging blaze) dipped its bucket in a nearby river constantly, but it seemed a futile effort.
It took a couple of hours, but soon, the officials let us through so that we could move on. The air had not cleared, but the path was safer. I could only think of the animals that perished, and the property owners that were still fighting valiantly to protect their homes.
The fires that have raged across the West in 2015 are far worse than that one blaze. This has affected nearly every Western state because of the drought that has left us without rain for months. On August 21, a few drops of rain in North Idaho cleared the air so that we have a pale blue sky again today. The wind is still blowing, the smoke on the edges of the horizon, but there is oxygen for the first time in a week.
The toll will be…
When the real rains come, this nightmare will be over. How many homes have been lost, how many animals and livestock perished will be determined by officials. Three human lives have been lost thus far. We can only pray that no more will be added to that count.
— Telegraph News (@TelegraphNews) August 20, 2015
— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) August 20, 2015