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Wildfire prompts evacuation of nearly 900 Washington state homes

By Victoria Cavaliere

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Wildfires stoked by high winds and dry, hot weather threatened homes and businesses across parts of Washington state on Wednesday, with nearly 900 dwellings evacuated near the Bavarian-style village of Leavenworth in the Cascade mountains.

The Chiwaukum Creek fire scorched some 465 acres by early Wednesday as it raged unchecked through timber in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and private land owned by Weyerhaeuser company, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Laurie Dowie said.

By afternoon, a plume of smoke 20,000 feet high was visible in Seattle, about 100 miles to the west. Evacuation orders were issued for some 860 homes north of Leavenworth as flames advanced on the area, Dowie said.

A lengthy stretch of U.S. Highway 2 from Leavenworth, a resort town modeled to resemble a Bavarian hamlet, to another Alpine ski area at Stevens Pass was closed to traffic, she said.

Dowie said there were no immediate reports of property damage or injuries from the blaze, which erupted at mid-day on Tuesday, one of several fires burning on the eastern slopes of the Cascades.

The much larger Mill Canyon fire further east near the town of Entiat, along the Columbia River, has blackened at least 22,500 acres but was 40 percent contained, fire officials said. Earlier evacuations prompted by that blaze have since been lifted, but three outbuildings were damaged.

A wider outbreak of wildfires in the Cascades, including six blazes ignited Tuesday after lightning strikes, prompted state officials to declare an emergency for 20 counties in eastern and central Washington.

"Extreme fire weather conditions and a lack of available firefighting resources in the Pacific Northwest could hamper future firefighting efforts in the state," Washington's Emergency Management Division said in a statement.

The blazes were the latest to strike in parched western states as the summer fire season heats up, fueled by low humidity, high temperatures and high winds. Temperatures in Entiat reached 110 degrees Fahrenheit, Dowie said.

In neighboring Oregon, at least 10 fires have broken out since late last week, including a blaze in a rural area near the Sprague River that destroyed six houses and 14 outbuildings, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.

In Idaho, a 31,000-acre fire near the city of Carey was triggered by a lightning strike, but crews said they hoped to contain the blaze by week's end.

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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