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Published: Monday, September 24, 2012, 2:41 p.m.

Smoke remains problem in E. Washington

SPOKANE -- Major wildfires burning on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range were relatively calm on Monday, but smoke continued to foul the air of many Eastern Washington communities.
The two biggest fires were reported as larger in size on Monday, but officials said that was due mostly to better mapping and the use of burn-outs to create fire lines. The Wenatchee complex of fires was reported Monday morning at 82 square miles, and 30 percent contained, while the Table Mountain fire was reported at nearly 57 square miles in size, and 10 percent contained.
"The big fires continue to creep on some uncontained edges," said Alan Hoffmeister, a spokesman on the Wenatchee complex.
Only a handful of structures have burned.
More than 2,500 firefighters battled those blazes on Monday, he said. They continued setting burn-outs on Monday to build lines around the fires, he said.
The huge fires are hurting air quality across Eastern Washington.
State officials said air quality in the Wenatchee and Cashmere areas remains in the "hazardous" category, while Pateros, Entiat and Ellensburg had air rated as "very unhealthy." Many other Eastern Washington communities have "unhealthy" air quality. Heavy smoke hung in the air of Spokane, 200 miles to the east of the blazes, turning the sun a bright red color at times.
The smoke is being held in place by inversions.
"We don't have a 'worse than hazardous' category," state Department of Ecology spokeswoman Jani Gilbert said. People who live in hazardous air areas should stay indoors and keep doors and windows closed, she said.
The heavy smoke was hampering aerial firefighters, Hoffmeister said.
"Half the time they can't fly because of the smoke," he said.
Fire crews also seem to be suffering.
"I was in the dining tent this morning and noticed the continuous sound of coughing," Hoffmeister said. "It's obvious there are a lot of upper respiratory issues going on."
Air quality isn't expected to improve much soon, because only light winds are expected over the Cascades this week, the state Department of Ecology said.
"It's not looking very good for a quick clear-out," Gilbert said.
The wildfires were started by lightning in early September.
Several other wildfires were also burning in the state. The biggest was a nearly 14,000-acre fire that was 40 percent contained along the west flank of Mount Adams.
Story tags » Forest Fire

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