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Low temperatures, rain and rising humidity help firefighters battling flames in West

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SPOKANE, Washington — Rain and cooler temperatures Monday helped firefighters battling a series of big blazes in north-central Washington and other states in the West.

In Washington, the North Star Complex of wildfires stood at 313 square miles and was about 22 percent contained.

A small amount of rain that fell Sunday didn't even reach the floor of the burning forests, but raised humidity levels, which helped firefighters, fire spokesman Donnie Davis said.

Temperatures in the 50s and 60s on Monday morning inhibited growth of the fire, which was burning east of Omak and north of Nespelem, Davis said.

Meanwhile, the Okanogan Complex of wildfires stood at about 30 percent containment on Monday. Spokesman Bernie Pineda said rain and breezes cleared the smoky air.

"You can see the surrounding foothills," Pineda said.

Three firefighters died when their truck crashed and was overrun by flames while they tried to escape the Okanogan wildfires two weeks ago. A fourth firefighter, 25-year-old Daniel Lyon, sustained burns on more than 60 percent of his body. He underwent his third successful burn surgery at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on Monday and remained in serious condition.

The Okanogan Complex became the largest wildfire in state history last week, covering more than 470 square miles.

But fire managers split the Tunk Block Fire out of the Okanogan Complex and gave management of that blaze to North Star fire officials, Davis said. That's because the two fires were only about 5 miles apart and were expected to merge, Davis said.

In Idaho, a wildfire jumped the Salmon River, prompting evacuation notices and forcing more than 100 rafters to cut their trip short and be shuttled out of the backcountry. Authorities said the fire grew to 122 square miles on Monday and threatened the town of Riggins. Fire spokesman Jose Acosta said crews tried to use the river as a fire break but gusty winds over the weekend caused the firefighters to abandon the area for safety reasons.

Idaho on Monday had 18 large fires burning, the most in the nation.

In Oregon, crews fighting a large blaze south of John Day caught a break as cooler weather, lighter winds and rain helped them get ahead of the flames. The fire has destroyed more than 40 homes and burned 158 square miles since Aug. 12.

In Montana, the Flathead County sheriff's office lifted the mandatory evacuation order for residents of Essex, on the southern edge of Glacier National Park. U.S. Highway 2 also reopened.

In Wyoming, firefighters contained a wildfire that burned more than 200 acres of grass and sage brush near Gray Reef Reservoir in Natrona County on Sunday.

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