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Methow Valley fires

Already four are dead.

Sixteen people — 14 firefighters and two hikers — were trapped July 10 after hot temperatures and dry fuels transformed a small blaze in Okanogan County into a blast furnace. They had only seconds to try to escape the encroaching Thirty Mile Fire.

And the Libby South and Thirty Mile fires near Winthrop may be just an early beginning for Eastern Washington's wildfire season. Experts say that below-average rainfall for the past three years — including the second-driest winter in a half-century — has turned the region into a tinderbox.

Relief in the form of rain likely won't come to Eastern Washington until September. So residents wait through a long and tense summer as lightning — even a single spark — could once again set off an inferno.

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