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Washington wildfire, biggest in state history, claims first fatality

About 20 major wildfires continue to burn in the Northwest
The Carlton Complex fire in north-central Washington is the biggest in state history
Man dies trying to save his home from Washington state wildfire

A homeowner died over the weekend trying to save his home against what officials describe as the worst wildfire in state history, a blaze that has burned about 375 square miles and destroyed at least 150 homes. 

The Carlton Complex fire in north-central Washington has also cut off electrical power to six communities and prompted hundreds of evacuations. The fire is about 2% contained, although officials said Monday that cooler weather and calmer winds Monday were improving their ability to battle the fire. 

On Saturday, Robert E. Koczewski, 67, was fighting the blaze that was threatening his home, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank T. Rogers said Monday.

Koczewski “and his wife had been the fighting the fire for three days,” Rogers told the Los Angeles Times in an interview in his office. “She said no fire trucks had come through. They did everything they could to save their home and they did. But on Saturday, he had a heart attack,” the sheriff said.

The Carlton fire is one of about 20 major wildfires burning in the arid Northwest. It began with a lightning strike on July 14 in the region roughly 200 miles northeast of Seattle.

Some of the danger has decreased as the 1,622 firefighters and support personnel have been battling the blaze, according to Jeff Sevigney, fire information officer for the task force working to control the fire. On Sunday, “we were able to start doing some actual containment work such as building fire lines,” he said.

The number of destroyed houses has been rising, Rogers said. “We’ll be at 150-plus homes when we are done counting. It went from 80 to 100 and we did another count yesterday and it was 120. It could get to 200 homes destroyed.”

Another 1,000 residences are still threatened, he said.

The electrical system serving communities including Pateros, Carlton, Methow, Twisp, Winthrop and Mazama is down, according to the county Public Utility District. It could take weeks to be returned. The utility described the system as almost a complete loss because of the fire.

There is no date for containment, the sheriff said.

“All summer it will go on for us,” Rogers said. “And here is the sad thing, it is not even fire season.”

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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