Obama declares wildfire emergency in Washington state

A Blackhawk military helicopter is used to make water drops during the First Creek Fire in Chelan, Washington, on Aug 21, 2015.
A Blackhawk military helicopter is used to make water drops during the First Creek Fire in Chelan, Washington, on Aug 21, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - President Barack Obama declared an emergency on Friday for wildfire-ravaged Washington state, as Australia and New Zealand sent firefighters to help US crews struggling to contain deadly blazes across America's drought-stricken West.

Obama's declaration releases federal funds to help in relief efforts in the north-western state, where several fires are burning out of control and three firefighters have been killed.

Large wildfires are currently blazing across 10 US states, with active fires burning some 526,000 hectares.

"Many residents in Washington, as well as other western states, remain evacuated as firefighters work to contain large fires across the West," the National Interagency Fire Centre (NIFC) said.

Particularly worrying is a series of blazes called the Okanogan Complex, which is made up of five wildfires in north-central Washington.

More than 5,100 homes are threatened, the KING-TV news station reported, and an unspecified number of buildings have already been destroyed.

With firefighters spread thin across the vast American West, the NIFC said a contingent of personnel from Australia and New Zealand was expected to arrive in Boise, Idaho on Sunday.

Some 71 firefighters and other personnel had been requested, although the final details were still being worked out, the NIFC said.

The state of Idaho is one of the hardest-hit, with 17 large fires burning on Friday, as Washington, Oregon and California trailed close behind.

As of Wednesday, there were nearly 30,000 US firefighters and support staff battling the blazes.

Canada and the US military have also sent crews to help with the effort, which Australia and New Zealand now join.

"Australia and New Zealand have been key partners with the US fire community for more than 50 years but were last mobilised in 2008 when severe fire activity was similar to this year," the NIFC said.

The centre said three firefighters were killed on Thursday.

US media reported that they died in Washington after their vehicle crashed and was overtaken by flames.