Man dies after becoming ill at E. Washington wildfire

  • Wed Sep 19th, 2012 7:54am
  • News

Associated Press

WENATCHEE — A firefighter who died after falling ill while helping at a wildfire north of Wenatchee was identified Tuesday as a Montana man.

Timber faller Chris Seelye was from Darby, fire spokeswoman Shannon O’Brien said in a statement. He was working under contract north of Entiat when he became ill on the fire line Monday and was transported to a hospital, where he died.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire offered condolences to his friends and family, and said she would extend an emergency order for all counties east of the Cascades.

The announcement came as crews struggled to contain dozens of wildfires throughout the state. More than 4,000 firefighters were battling blazes on some 88 square miles of dry timber, grass and sagebrush in central Washington. Most of the fires were sparked by lightning earlier this month.

The governor’s proclamation will ensure continued air support from the Washington National Guard to fight wildfires and extend a burn ban through Monday.

“Progress is being made, but we can’t let down our guard,” Gregoire said. “I want to make sure our fire crews have every resource possible — and want to ensure we’re taking every step to prevent new fires from starting.”

Weak winds and stagnant conditions that have allowed smoke to hover over much of the region and impair air quality were expected to continue for days. Hazardous air quality warnings were issued for Ellensburg and Wenatchee, where residents were advised to remain indoors, limit physical activity and close doors and windows.

Near the rural town of Liberty, about 25 miles northwest of Ellensburg, Gregoire visited residents and urged them to evacuate. They were among those in 130 homes that were ordered to leave near several Kittitas County wildfires, but many people have declined to leave. Fires in that area have burned more than 6,000 acres, or 9 square miles.

Near Wenatchee, a complex of several fires threatened as many as 800 homes. Those fires have blackened nearly 55 square miles and were 22 percent contained.

Elsewhere on Tuesday:

Ÿ A cluster of fires in Yakima County and part of Kittitas County was 15 percent contained at 2,198 acres. Nearly 700 firefighters were assigned to those blazes.

Ÿ Nearly 500 firefighters worked to contain the Okanogan Complex of wildfires in Okanogan County, where about 60 homes were threatened. The fires have burned 4,711 acres, or about 7 square miles, and were 18 percent contained.

Ÿ The Cascade Creek Fire in Klickitat County covered 6,853 acres and was 10 percent contained.