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Northwest wildfires threaten dozens of communities

A band of more than two dozen wildfires stretching across the Northwest have scorched thousands of acres, authorities said Sunday.

The largest, on the Oregon-Idaho border southwest of Boise, had already grown to nearly 288,000 acres by Sunday. Nearly 500 firefighters were battling the massive Soda Fire, and authorities said they hoped to have it contained within three to five days. By Sunday, it was 25% contained, KTVB-TV reported.

After touring the area on Saturday, Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter issued a disaster declaration Saturday for Owyhee County so affected communities could get assistance more easily once the fire is contained.

In central Washington State, a large, fast-moving fire burning near the resort town of Chelan had destroyed between 30 and 50 homes by Sunday, Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett said.

“It’s an eerie feeling to see cars burned to the ground, tractors scorched,” he said. Burnett added, “I’ve never seen homes lost like this.”

More than 1,600 people were evacuated from the area over the weekend as the Reach Fire, which is actually a band of smaller fires, threatened hundreds of homes. At its largest on Saturday, the band stretched 15 miles. Emergency responders were so busy that no one could get out and take an accurate accounting of all of the destruction, Dave Helvey of the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office told The Seattle Times

Fire incident spokesman Wayne Patterson said air tankers had established lines to keep the flames from reaching downtown Chelan. Helicopters were dipping into Lake Chelan to pull up water to battle blazes north of the lake.

“There were literally people on the beaches near that lake in their swim wear out on the lake right near it,” Patterson said.

The Chelan Public Utility District said more than 9,000 customers were without power on Saturday after the fire destroyed more than 30 poles supporting transmission lines. The hospital in Chelan evacuated some of its patients to a hospital in Wenatchee, 50 miles south, but the emergency room remained open, Chelan County Emergency Management officials said. Several nursing homes and assisted-living centers also chose to evacuate.

At least two deaths related to the fires were reported over the weekend.

In Stevens County, near Spokane, Wash., fire officials said one man died while evacuating from the Carpenter Road Fire, which destroyed 20 structures. Family members said the man collapsed after he went back into the fire zone to move his farm equipment to a safer place. Emergency crews’ access to the property was blocked by the fire.

In central Idaho, a 70-year-old woman died of a head injury on Friday when she fell while preparing to flee from the Clearwater Complex fires, which were spreading between the towns of Lewiston and Kamiah, the Idaho County Sheriff’s Department told the Idaho Statesman

Contributing: KREM-TV, Spokane, Wash., and The Associated Press