One home was destroyed and at least a couple of others were damaged Saturday when three fires broke out along BNSF railroad tracks between Spokane and Cheney.
The fires burned about 450 acres of scrub pine forest and brush, and flying embers caused some smaller spot fires. No one was injured.
The cause remained under investigation.
Reported at 11:20 a.m., the fires were elevated to statewide “major incident” status shortly before 1 p.m. About 300 firefighters from Districts 3, 9 and 10, the state Department of Natural Resources, and the Spokane, Cheney and Fairchild Air Force Base fire departments had the fires 90 percent trailed and completely contained by nightfall.
About 40 firefighters planned to work through the night, and about 200 were expected to begin mopping up the fires today.
The main fires burned about 100 acres on the east side of Cheney-Spokane Road, north of the Spokane Memorial Gardens cemetery and about 150 acres about a half-mile east on Cheney-Spokane Road.
The worst damage was at the intersection of Andrus and Grove roads at the edge of the town of Marshall.
About 200 acres burned in that fire, which accounted for all of the structural damage.
Fire officials suggested residents evacuate but didn’t require them to do so. Some residents packed valuables into their cars in case they needed to leave quickly.
Pastor Toby Tobin had been preparing for a wedding at the Marshall Community Church on Saturday when he stepped outside about 12:45 p.m. and saw a fire burning up a hillside north of town.
As soon as he commented about the fire, Tobin said, someone responded, “Well, look behind you.”
Fire was moving up from the south, just across Grove Road from Tobin’s house.
“It looked like it took off right from the railroad tracks,” Tobin said.
When he got back to his house, a windblown ember apparently jumped the road and ignited a small brush fire behind the house.
“It got my vinyl siding pretty good,” Tobin said.
But he fought the fire with a garden house. Four or five neighbors came with shovels, and firefighters soon arrived to knock down the small fire.
“We were blessed, but we cheat,” Tobin said. “We pray.”
Just a short distance north along Grove Road, near the intersection with Andrus Road, a home was destroyed when the fire again jumped the road. Neighbors said the homeowner was a volunteer firefighter who was away on vacation.
The fire had ignited a garage on the west side of Grove Road, and firefighters were working to save that home when a sudden shift in the wind blew the fire over their heads and ignited the home, across the road.
Firefighters were forced to withdraw and by the time they could return the second home was fully ablaze.
Firefighters couldn’t save the second home but confined the fire to the garage of the home on the west side of Grove.
Names of the affected homeowners couldn’t be confirmed Saturday night.
“The firefighters did an outstanding job to save the houses that they did,” said Dan Brown, a Spokane Fire Department battalion chief who was serving as “major incident commander” for the Marshall-area fire.
“It burned so fast it was just like a jet engine,” Marshall resident Joe Everson said. “The sound was just like a jet engine.”
Everson and his wife, Diana, were conducting a yard sale when he noticed fire approaching a neighbor’s home at the edge of town, on the west side of Grove Road.
Knowing the neighbor had gone to help his parents at their nearby home, Everson grabbed a shovel and ran to his neighbor’s home.
He said he put a sprinkler on the roof and began digging a fire line at the back of the house.
“Once I got it semi-secured, I came down the road to find an officer who could call some firetrucks because by that time the outbuildings were going to go up,” Everson said.
Fire burned all the way around the house, except for its driveway, but firefighters were able to keep the house from igniting, Everson said.
The homeowner was the son of the couple whose garage was damaged, across Grove Road from the house that was destroyed.
Department of Natural Resources spokesman Eric Keller said roadblocks were lifted at 9 p.m., and people who had evacuated were back in their homes.