A growing wildfire has prompted evacuations in two eastern Washington State communities as helicopter crews raced to rescue residents “trapped by the fires,” which had rapidly burned more than 3,000 acres in a few hours on Friday, the authorities said.
The wildfire, which began around noon and has been named the Gray Fire, caused evacuations in the communities of Medical Lake and Four Lakes, which together have over 5,000 residents.
Mayor Terri Cooper of Medical Lake warned residents on Facebook on Friday afternoon that they needed to “get out now” and that transportation to shelters was available.
Joe Smillie, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, said by phone on Friday that several structures had been destroyed in Medical Lake by the wildfire, which remained zero percent contained on Friday night and was being pushed by wind gusts of around 35 miles per hour.
The Gray Fire, he said, was being fueled by dry grass and wheat fields.
The fire was spreading farther south closer to Cheney, a city of about 13,000 people that also houses Eastern Washington University, but Mr. Smillie said firefighters were trying to reroute the fire or stop its spread.
Photos posted by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office on X, formerly known as Twitter, appeared to show a towering billow of smoke and stretches of a forest engulfed in smoke as an air support unit flew by.
Hilary Franz, the public lands commissioner in Washington, said on X on Friday, “We’ve got a long night ahead of us, but please keep yourselves safe, and we’ll focus on bringing these fast-moving fires under control.”
Across the Canadian border in Kelowna, British Columbia, a major resort area, homes on its suburban fringes were on fire and orders to evacuate were decreed in a community where several homes were destroyed on Thursday night.
Wildfires are increasing in size and intensity in the Western United States, and wildfire seasons are growing longer. Recent research has suggested that heat and dryness associated with global warming are major reasons for the increase in bigger and stronger fires.