(TWISP, Wash.) — The three firefighters who died while battling a wildfire in central Washington Wednesday were in a car crash overtaken by the fire, officials said.
The next of kin of the three unnamed U.S. Forest Service firefighters were being notified Wednesday night, officials said.
Shifting winds may have contributed to the rapidly growing fire, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said.
“It was a hell of a storm up here and the winds were blowing in every direction,” Rogers told ABC News’ Good Morning America Thursday.
“The firefighters were engaged in initial attack operations and were involved in a vehicle accident when it is believed that the fire overtook the vehicle,” according to a statement from the U.S. Forest Service late Wednesday.
Four other firefighters were injured, though it is unclear whether they were involved in the car accident. The U.S. Forest Service has not responded to ABC News’ request for information about the firefighters.
The incident took place in a wildfire near Twisp, Washington, on land managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
Okanogan County Emergency Management issued evacuation orders Wednesday afternoon, including for the towns of Twisp and Winthrop, Washington. Recent wildfires in the state have destroyed more than 235,000 acres of land, 50 homes and 60 other structures, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday while requesting a federal emergency declaration in the state.
About 300 National Guardsmen have been called up to help deal with the fires and roughly 3,600 homes remain threatened, the governor’s office said.
The United States has seen a huge increase in wildfire activity this year.
Wildfires have burned about 7.2 million acres of land so far this year in the United States, with fires in Alaska spreading the farthest. The U.S. Forest Service said it is close to exhausting this year’s budget for battling fires.
The dry weather and drought in California are contributing to wildfires in the West.
Areas in the Pacific Northwest, California, Alaska and Hawaii are at greater risk for wildfires this month than usual, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
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