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Saturday, September 22, 2012 - Page updated at 06:30 p.m.

Heat, winds, low moisture make Wash. fires grow

By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS
Associated Press

Wildfires in central Washington merged and tripled in size to more than 47 square miles, thanks to a combination of warm temperatures, winds, very low humidity and low moisture in the vegetation.

The Table Mountain blaze is being fought by more than 750 firefighters and was 5 percent contained by Thursday night, fire managers said. It has not burned any homes, but 161 homes north of Ellensburg and in the Liberty area are under a Level 3 evacuation, meaning residents are urged to leave, Kittitas County Sheriff Gene Dana said Thursday.

The Table Mountain Complex is one of several wildfires burning on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range. The largest, the Wenatchee Complex, has grown to about 65 square miles. It was 24 percent contained and was being fought by more than 2,000 firefighters.

The fires are blanketing Eastern Washington with smoke, and dry conditions have led the state to issue restrictions on logging and other industrial activities in the forests.

The Table Mountain and Wenatchee River complexes are moving closer together, fire officials have said.

Thousands of firefighters are battling dozens of wildfires that were sparked by lightning earlier this month up and down the east slopes of the Cascades. Many of the blazes are small and in remote areas, but all together the fires have covered more than 108 square miles.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes in the paths of the fires.

Smoke from the fires is pouring across Eastern Washington, obscuring the air 200 miles away in Spokane. State officials have warned of hazardous air quality in Ellensburg and Wenatchee from the thick smoke. They are advising residents to stay indoors, limit physical activity and keep doors and windows closed.

The smoke has already prompted some schools to relocate weekend sporting events. Central Washington University is moving its Saturday football game against Azusa Pacific from Ellensburg to the Seattle suburb of Bothell.

"Unfortunately, areas around Wenatchee remain in the worst shape," said Sean Hopkins, of the state Department of Ecology, in Yakima. "At the same time, other areas are experiencing unhealthy air anywhere smoke lingers from the hundreds of wildfires that are burning."

Air-quality monitors in Chelan County are reading in the hazardous and unhealthy ranges, the agency said. Conditions are getting worse in the Quincy area, and conditions could worsen around Spokane, Pullman and Clarkston.

The Washington state Department of Natural Resources on Thursday announced a shutdown of all logging and industrial operations in the woods to avoid accidental starting of fires. The shutdown covers portions of Douglas, Chelan, Kittitas, Yakima and Klickitat counties.

Logging is restricted to between 8 p.m. and 1 p.m. in portions of Lincoln, Spokane, Stevens, Ferry and Okanogan counties, the state said.

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