Twisp - A "hellstorm" of flames apparently enveloped a vehicle that crashed while carrying firefighters battling a blaze in Washington state, killing three of them during an explosive fire season in the arid West.
Four other firefighters were hurt, including one critically, on Wednesday as crews fought raging wildfires advancing on towns in the north-central part of the state, some of the many blazes burning uncontrolled throughout the West.
Drought and heat have combined to make this fire season one of the most active in recent years. Nearly 29\ 000 firefighters are battling around 100 large blazes in states including Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Washington and California.
This season, 13 people have died battling wildfires, including the three in Washington, said Jessica Gardetto of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. She said it was a high number but could not immediately compare it to other years.
The deaths happened in the scenic Methow River valley, northeast of Seattle, but few details were released as officials notified family members.
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"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," said a statement from Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, relaying information from Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers.
It wasn't immediately clear if the four injured also were involved in the crash.
"It was a hellstorm up here," Rogers told Spokane news station KXLY-TV. "The fire was racing and the winds were blowing in every direction and then it would shift. ... It was tough on 'em up here."
One firefighter remained in critical condition with severe burns on Thursday at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, spokesperson Susan Gregg said.
The White House said President Barack Obama directed his administration to stay in touch with state and local officials and to provide federal assistance as necessary.
The National Weather Service warned about weather conditions that could fuel fires in eastern Washington through Friday. Temperatures were expected to climb above 32°C and relative humidity may drop as low as 14%.