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Okanogan wildfire grows by 22 square miles; firefighters wary about expected windy weekend

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SPOKANE, Washington — The largest wildfire ever recorded in Washington state history had grown by more than 22 square miles Friday and firefighters were worried about high winds predicted for the weekend.

The Okanogan fires had burned 472 square miles. It was only 12 percent contained after windy conditions Thursday.

Officials say the fire had destroyed at least 45 primary residences, 49 cabins and 60 outbuildings. Three firefighters have died battling the fire. A memorial service was planned Sunday in Wenatchee.

Fire spokeswoman Sierra Hellstrom said temperatures were lower and humidity higher on Friday — conditions expected to slow the fire.

However, lightning and high winds predicted for the weekend could spread the flames, she said.

PHOTO: An airplane tanker flies through smoky air as it drops fire retardant on a wildfire that flared up in the late afternoon near Omak, Wash., Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015. Firefighters were holding their own Thursday against the largest wildfire on record in Washington state, even as rising temperatures and increased winds stoked the flames. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
An airplane tanker flies through smoky air as it drops fire retardant on a wildfire that flared up in the late afternoon near Omak, Wash., Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015. Firefighters were holding their own Thursday against the largest wildfire on record in Washington state, even as rising temperatures and increased winds stoked the flames. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The fire was just five miles from merging with a 281-square-mile wildfire north of Nespelem, Hellstrom said.

Meanwhile, a wildfire burning in Stevens County north of Spokane grew almost 15 square miles overnight after jumping a containment line and stood at 87 square miles. That fire was about 25 percent contained.

"The winds, terrain and vegetation have created the potential for large growth," fire officials said in a press release.

With wind gusts expected to reach 20 mph, firefighters were concerned the blaze could threaten homes.

Meanwhile, high fire danger prompted the U.S. Forest Service to close an area north of Highway 2 that includes a major portion of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest from f the Columbia River to the crest of the Cascade Range.

All the fires burning in eastern Washington were hurting air quality. Readings were hazardous in Republic, Omak and Nespelem, and unhealthy in Colville, Wellpinit and Davenport.

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