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Few new fires, but crews are kept busy

Reports of new fires were sparse Saturday despite dire weather predictions, but several large wildfires sparked by Friday’s storm kept crews busy around the Inland Northwest.

“Thankfully, we haven’t gotten a repeat of last night’s weather,” said Chuck Johnson, assistant regional manager for the Washington Department of Natural Resources’ northeast office.

About 20 fires were burning in his region Saturday, most of which consumed less than 10 acres.

The largest blaze in the area was the Penawawa fire, south of Spokane, which burned about 5,000 acres of wheat, brush and some timber, said Colfax Fire Department Lt. Jim Thompson.

Between 50 and 75 firefighters from various departments worked to contain the blaze, he said.

Firefighters in the area also fought the 8-mile-long Hooper fire and contained a 100-acre blaze east of Washtucna, Wash.

North of Omak, firefighters from DNR as well as Okanogan and Ferry counties hoped to bulldoze a fire line around the Tunk fire. It burned several hundred acres, but did not threaten any buildings, Johnson said

Crews were also working to contain the 50-acre Blue Creek fire three miles south of Addy, Wash.

The residual effects of Friday’s storm in Spokane continued to leave 650 Avista customers without power Saturday night, said spokeswoman Laurine Jue. Additional crews from as far away as Grangeville were brought in to restore the power and fix unrelated electrical problems that shut down the NorthTown Mall Saturday evening, she said.

In Idaho, numerous lightning-caused fires in the Elm Street Complex south of St. Maries burned between 60 and 80 acres by Saturday night, said Coeur d’Alene Interagency Dispatch Center manager Sally Estes.

Air tankers were called in to protect a microwave tower and weather station in the area.

The Coyote Creek fire, which started Friday beside U.S. Highway 12 near Lewiston, spread to well over 4,000 acres Saturday, said Nez Perce County Fire Chief Ron Hall.

“It’s in very steep, rugged, straight-up-and-down hillsides with heavy brush,” Hall said.

The fire has destroyed one home but was no longer threatening any buildings, he said.