Crews fight rash of fires

FRIDAY, AUG. 17, 2007

Brush fires ravaged Spokane County on Thursday, including nine small blazes that firefighters believe arsonists started while driving along back roads and the Newport Highway.

The motorists left a trail of grass fires along Monroe Road, Denison-Chattaroy Road and Highway 2. In the mid-afternoon, a resident called 911 to report someone throwing burning material out of a vehicle, said Pat Humphries, a spokesman for county Fire District 4. “You just don’t have that number of fire starts accidentally at one time,” he said.

On Monroe, a 2-acre blaze threatened several homes until firefighters quickly knocked it down. Along Denison-Chattaroy, small patches smoldered between Highways 395 and 2. Flames lit bone-dry pine trees along southbound Highway 2 near Jim Hill Road, sending hot material soaring to the median and other side of the highway, where small spot fires ignited.

One southbound lane was closed, but passing drivers slowed down only to stare.

By 4:30 p.m., all nine fires were knocked down. Officials were on the watch for two men reportedly driving a white Dodge pickup, Humphries said. The state Department of Natural Resources is handling the fire investigation.

The DNR was soon hard at work again on a 35-acre wildfire just north of Fish Lake that sent white smoke high over Spokane. Northeast of Cheney, the blaze threatened 10 to 15 homes along Scribner, Jensen and Goss roads.

Nobody was evacuated, but nearly 30 ground units were dispatched just after 5 p.m. and knocked down the fire within two hours, said Davie Kindell, a spokeswoman for the DNR. Motorists along Cheney-Spokane Road stopped to watch crop dusters drop retardant and helicopters reload their water buckets in Fish Lake.

Kindell attributed the efficient knock-down to a quick relocation of firefighters from last weekend’s nearby Marshall Fire, which many personnel were still mopping up Thursday. A relative abundance of fire departments and DNR wildfire crews proved a perfect combination for battling the Fish Lake fire, Kindell said.

“It’s kind of a two-edged sword with the structural districts protecting structures and DNR doing our thing,” she said.

By dark, crews had contained the fire, Kindell said. Personnel will watch it for the next few days.

But more than 210 firefighters on either side of the U.S.-Canada border had less luck Thursday. On a treacherous day for firefighting – hot weather, stiff winds, arid land – crews battling the South Pend D’oreille fire were forced to retreat.

“They had to pull everybody off the line today,” said Debbie Wilkins, a spokeswoman for the Colville National Forest.

The fire has burned 640 acres in British Columbia and an unknown amount of forest in the Jubalee Creek basin in Stevens County, racing up steep terrain along the remote border. Fierce winds provoked Thursday’s retreat, Wilkins said.

“This one has the potential to be a problem, for sure,” she said.


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