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Washington declares a state of emergency in battle against wildfires

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More than 500 homes are threatened in Washington state as the West faces a bad wildfire season

A state of emergency was declared in 20 eastern counties in the state of Washington after a handful of new wildfires forced evacuations and threatened more than 500 homes.

In what is shaping up as an especially difficult fire season throughout the parched West, firefighters are battling numerous blazes in the Northwest. Late Tuesday night, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, acting for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee who is on state business in Washington, D.C., signed the declaration of emergency.

According to the state, the proclamation allows the use of the Washington National Guard and the State Guard if needed and directs state agencies to do "everything reasonably possible" to assist affected local governments to respond with added resources to fight fires.

The proclamation covers Adams, Asotin, Benton, Chelan, Columbia, Douglas, Ferry, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Kittitas, Klickitat, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla, Whitman and Yakima counties.

The largest fire in Washington is the Mills fire southwest of Entiat.

As of Wednesday morning, the fire, which is burning on 35.27 square miles, is 40% contained, according to fire officials. About 420 structures have been threatened by the fire, the cause of which is still under investigation.

Other fires also continued to burn in the state.

A brush fire that jumped containment lines temporarily forced a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 90 in the central part of the state to be closed.

Firefighters were also battling the Stokes Road fire, burning in north-central Washington's Methow Valley. That lightning-caused fire has grown to 600 acres.

Meanwhile in southern Oregon, firefighter crews fought the Moccasin Hill blaze near the town of Sprague River.

That fire has claimed six houses since it began on Sunday.

The fire, which has burned across nearly four square miles, is about 15% contained.

Many of the fires have been linked to an outbreak of lightning. Oregon officials estimated that as many as 15,000 lightning strikes were recorded over the weekend, though most did not reach the ground.

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