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Wildfires force new evacuation orders

wildfiresSEATTLE--Emergency officials extended evacuation orders on Friday to additional towns threatened by a deadly array of wildfires in north-central Washington state as dozens of blazes swirled across the drought-parched Pacific Northwest and surrounding regions.

President Barack Obama signed a federal declaration of emergency for Washington state on Friday, authorizing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate relief efforts in 11 counties and several Indian reservations hard hit by wildfires.

Authorities late on Thursday ordered the population of Tonasket, a riverfront hamlet of about 1,000 residents just 25 miles (40 km) south of the Canadian border, to flee their homes as flames closed in.

About 25 miles (40 km) farther south along the same river, emergency officials early on Friday issued additional evacuation orders for parts of Okanogan, a larger town at the western edge of the Colville Indian Reservation, urging evacuees in a Facebook posting "not to wait for door-to-door notification."

Both communities were in the path of flames from a cluster of wildfires dubbed the Okanogan Complex, which has doubled in size since Thursday to scorch some 161,000 acres (65,154 hectares) of brush and dry timber about 115 miles (185 km) northeast of Seattle. The Okanogan Complex includes the so-called Twisp River fire, which killed three firefighters and injured four others on Wednesday night after forcing the evacuation of some 4,000 households in the towns of Twisp and Winthrop about 30 miles (48 km) west of Okanogan in the foothills of the Cascades.

Further evacuations were ordered on Friday around Nespelem, a tiny settlement in the interior of the Colville Reservation, where homes and businesses were threatened by a separate blaze that has blackened some 88,000 acres (35,600 hectares) of tribal lands.

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