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Wildfires across Wash. and the West stretching firefighting resources

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Firefighters hope for drop in human-caused fires

Five uncontained large fires in Washington, along with numerous smaller fires, mean firefighting resources are now stretched thin across the state, according to wildfire experts at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

Wildfires currently raging in Oregon, California, Idaho and Montana have pulled firefighters and air resources to those states, where the biggest fires are commanding national attention.

That concerns firefighters here in Washington, as the number of human-caused fires continues to rise through a record-breaking summer of drought and high temperatures. To reduce that threat, the state's firefighters are looking to the public for help.

"A very large number of wildfires in Washington are being started by people," said Mary Verner, DNR's deputy for wildfire. "Because conditions are so bad, common activities like operating farm equipment or target shooting can spark fires that turn into major destructive events. We need everyone to take the utmost care around any activity that might start a wildfire."

DNR is the state's lead wildland firefighting agency, protecting about 13 million acres of forest and grasslands across the state. As of August 11, there have been 751 fires on DNR-protected lands, with 628 of them caused by human activity. By this time last year, the state had seen 565 fires, with 455 of those human caused.

Large fires currently burning in the state include Cougar Creek, which started yesterday, burning on the southeast flank of Mount Adams; Wolverine, near Lake Chelan; Paradise, on the western border of Olympic National Park; Baldy, northeast of Colville; and Rutter Canyon, north of Spokane. Numerous smaller wildfires pop up daily throughout the state, which require immediate action by crews with engines and helicopters to stop these fires before they grow.

"Despite the high number of wildfire starts this year, our ability to be aggressive with initial attack has kept the majority of fires small," said Verner. "If we can reduce the number of human-started fires, we will have more resources to fight fires caused by lightning, which we cannot prevent."

As a period of dangerous fire weather continues, the agency is moving one of the state's top wildfire fighting teams to Moses Lake today, in addition to prepositioning crews, fire engines, helicopters and firefighting aircraft at key locations around the state.

Today, areas in the following counties are under a red flag warning: Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille, Chelan, Douglas, Lincoln, Spokane, Kittitas, Grant, Adams, Whitman, Franklin, Benton, Yakima, Klickitat, Walla Walla, and Columbia. A red flag warning is a fire-weather warning issued by the National Weather Service to inform area firefighting and land management agencies that conditions pose elevated danger of wildfire

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