Precipitation, wind change slow growth of Spokane County wildfires
By: Rebecca White / Spokane Public Radio
Update: Interstate 90 has re-opened. Washington State Department of Transportation officials say crews have removed damaged, and downed trees.
More than 20,000 acres have burned between the Gray Fire outside of Medical Lake, and the Oregon Fire, near Elk. First responders say the winds and dryness that fueled the initial rapid growth have dissipated.
The Gray Fire started at around noon on Friday, Southwest of Medical Lake, burning through wheat stubble on a hill. The Oregon Road Fire was first reported later Friday afternoon.
Both were fueled by hot weather, dry fuels and high winds. Hundreds were evacuated from the Elk area, as well as Medical Lake and Four Lakes. One person has been found dead in the burn zones at each fire. In the Medical Lake area around 185 structures have been lost in the fire so far. Around 80 have been lost in the Oregon fire.
Fire officials say they have not yet been able to do an estimate of how many of the structures that were lost were homes, and how many are outbuildings.
Patrick Lair, information officer for the Gray Fire said the conditions that led to rapid spread, high winds and low humidity, have improved.
“A little bit less on the wind, a little bit more moisture in the air, and cooler temperatures, all of that helps slow the fire down and give the firefighting crews a chance to get ahead of it,” Lair said.
That fire is now 10% contained. The Oregon fire is 0% contained.
Local firefighters now have more air support than they did over the weekend as well, as visibility improves, and winds die down.
Much of the burn zones around both areas is also still level 3 evacuation, which means people are not allowed back in.
Lair said areas that fire has already burned through are still dangerous. He said there are down power lines, hot spots and trees that have been severely weakened by fire.
He said people going back into evac zones to check on their property is a safety issue. He said crews and utility companies are working as quickly as they can to make those areas safe.
“The quicker that this work can get done inside the closure area, the quicker it can be re-opened for everyone,” he said. “The more people that are in there, the more complicated it makes it for the workers to restore those essential services.”
Some areas have been re-opened at level 2, which means people should be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.
Guy Gifford, and information officer for the Oregon Fire, said people at all levels of evacuation notice, or who don’t believe they’re at risk from fire, should be prepared, and monitoring the situation.
“Be aware of what the fire is doing,” he said. “Even if you’re not in the evacuation zone, when we have fire like this, fire changes, fire spreads very very quickly. Like we saw with those winds, it was a very very fast moving fire.”
Fire evacuation maps are available at Spokane County Emergency Management’s Facebook page, as well as other emergency information.
Mark Gregory, spokesperson for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, asked people who have not been able to get in contact with friends, and family members who live in the evacuation zones of each fire to call crime check and file a missing person’s report. He said the sheriff’s office can check the roster at the shelters set up for fire victims, or search their homes once it is safe to go into those areas.
The sheriff’s office is also asking people to avoid flying drones in wildfire zones, and to report it to law enforcement if they see it. Gregory said drones are a danger to aircraft fighting the fire, and hamper firefighter’s ability to mount a strong air response.
Avista has been working in areas impacted by wildfire to restore power. A spokesperson said they hope to have power in Medical Lake restored by Tuesday evening. Silver Lake may not get power back until Friday.
Crime Check: (509)-456-2233
Resources for wildfire victims:
Spokane Falls Community College, 3410 W Whistalks Way Spokane, WA
Riverside High School, 4120 E Deer Park Milan Road Chattaroy, WA
Individuals can contact the Red Cross for assistance at: (509) 326-3330 or RedCross.org.
The Spokane County Fairgrounds and Expo Center are open to shelter large animals or livestock from evacuated areas.
This story is being updated as more information comes in.
Doug Nadvornick contributed to this story.