SPOKANE, Wash. — Driven by scorching hot temperatures and strong winds, a new central Washington wildfire threatened hundreds of homes Wednesday and sent up a towering column of smoke.
The Chiwaukum Creek fire about 10 miles north of Leavenworth raced across nearly 2 square miles by evening and prompted the closure of a 15-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 2.
As many as 400 people have been told to leave their homes or cabins and another 800 homes were threatened, said Eileen Ervin, a Chelan County emergency management spokeswoman.
Worsening wildfire activity has prompted the governor’s offices in both Washington and Oregon to declare a state of emergency, a move that enables state officials to call up the National Guard. In Washington, that declaration covers 30 eastern Washington counties.
Wildfires were also burning in Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Oregon and California.
The Chiwaukum Creek fire, first detected Tuesday, was believed caused by lightning. It sent a smoke plume 25,000 feet into the air as it burned through heavy timber.
While the fire’s smoke and rapid growth made assessment difficult, a fire spokesman, Mike Mueller, said there was no confirmed loss of any homes by Wednesday evening.
Leavenworth, where the Red Cross set up a shelter, reached 104 degrees Wednesday and winds gusted to 18 mph.
In southern Oregon, a Klamath County wildfire turned out to be more destructive than authorities initially believed.
After the fire burned in the rural Moccasin Hill subdivision near Sprague River earlier this week, officials reported that six houses were destroyed, along with 14 outbuildings. But fire managers toured the burn area Tuesday and spokeswoman Ashley Lertora said they found 17 residences and 16 outbuildings destroyed.
Oregon fire officials said Wednesday that the Bailey Butte fire — part of the Waterman Complex — had burned more than 3 square miles west of Mitchell and was moving south into the Ochoco National Forest. Two other fires near Service Creek and Kimberly brought the Waterman Complex to more than 6 square miles, or 4,000 acres. The fires are in timber, grass and brush.
In Washington, fire officials said a handful of new wildfires, some started by lightning, were growing in central Washington.
“The National Weather Service posted red flag warnings and fire weather watches … for much of Eastern Washington from Wednesday afternoon through Friday,” said the state’s emergency declaration, signed by Lt. Gov. Brad Owen.
The state’s largest wildfire, the Mills Canyon blaze near the town of Entiat, was 40 percent contained and holding steady at about 35 square miles.
State fire assistance was ordered for the Carlton Complex of fires burning in north-central Washington’s Methow Valley, where residents of about a dozen homes have been told to leave. Spokesman Jacob McCann said Wednesday evening that complex has burned across 7 square miles with zero containment.
The Washington National Guard sent two helicopters and 14 people to help battle the blaze.
In Utah, a wildfire encroaching on homes in the Tooele County town of Stockton had burned about 400 to 500 acres. Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands spokesman Jason Curry said the fire burned part of a water tower but it’s believed no homes have been destroyed.
In central Idaho, the lightning-caused Preacher Fire has scorched nearly 50 square miles in two days, burning quickly through grass and brush. But fire managers said Wednesday they had made good progress and estimated the blaze would be contained by late Thursday.
In Nevada, fire crews have the upper hand on a lightning-sparked wildfire near Reno. But the forecast calls for thunderstorms that could bring new fire threats.
About 120 firefighters remained on the lines Wednesday evening at the blaze that has burned just over a square mile of brush and grass on U.S. Forest Service land near U.S. 395 northwest of Reno. No injuries have been reported and no structures were threatened.
The fire was estimated to be 20 percent contained Wednesday evening with help from four air tankers and three helicopters.
In rural Northern California, cooler temperatures and higher humidity helped firefighters battling the Bully Fire, which has burned through more than 13 square miles. The fire, which authorities blame on marijuana-growing activity, was 35 percent contained Wednesday.
Eight homes have been destroyed since Friday and 55 homes around one community are threatened.