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Cooler temperatures, lighter winds could help firefighters with Washington state wildfires

Firefighters Alex Keller, left, and Jacey Mesteth sharpen their tools as they wait to be deployed to a fire line Saturday, July 19, 2014, in Winthrop, Wash. A wind-driven, lightning-caused wildfire racing through rural north-central Washington destroyed about 100 homes Thursday and Friday, leaving behind solitary brick chimneys and burned-out automobiles as it blackened hundreds of square miles in the scenic Methow Valley northeast of Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

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Firefighters Alex Keller, left, and Jacey Mesteth sharpen their tools as they wait to be deployed to a fire line Saturday, July 19, 2014, in Winthrop, Wash. A wind-driven, lightning-caused wildfire racing through rural north-central Washington destroyed about 100 homes Thursday and Friday, leaving behind solitary brick chimneys and burned-out automobiles as it blackened hundreds of square miles in the scenic Methow Valley northeast of Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

WINTHROP, Wash. - Cooler temperatures and lighter winds are forecast to descend on a wildfire-stricken Washington state, helping firefighters battle flames that have been growing unfettered for a week and have covered hundreds of square miles (kilometres).

While Sunday's weather has slight improvements on the hot temperatures and gusty winds that have fueled the wildfires, the forecast for Monday and Tuesday calls for lighter winds and temperatures, said Spokane-based National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Koch.

"Overall, it looks like the weather scenario is improving," Koch said.

Then on Wednesday a "vigorous" front is expected to cover Washington state, bringing rain to much of the state. But it will also bring lightning, he added.

"The benefits of the system are still up in the air," Koch said. "We may get some rain where we need it, but we may also experience some lighting that could cause some new ignitions."

Sunday's official estimate puts the wildfire burning in north-central Washington at more than 370 square miles (958 square kilometres). It measured 260 square miles (673 square kilometres) on Friday.

Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers estimates that 150 homes have been destroyed, but suspects that number could be higher. His deputies haven't been able to search parts of the county where homes are spread miles apart. No serious injuries have been reported, Rogers said.

There are nearly 1,400 firefighters battling the flames, assisted by more than 100 fire engines, helicopters dropping buckets of water and planes spreading flame retardant.

Although the weather is improving, the towns in the scenic Methow Valley remain without power and have limited landline and cellphone service. Okanogan County Public Utility District officials told KREM that fully restoring power to the area could take weeks.

Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday about 50 fires were burning in Washington, which has been wracked by hot, dry weather, gusting winds and lightning. About 2,000 firefighters were working in the eastern part of the state, with about a dozen helicopters from the Department of Natural Resources and the National Guard, along with a Washington State Patrol spotter plane.

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