Firefighters converged Tuesday afternoon on a brush fire that started small but quickly charged toward numerous homes just north of Spokane.
The blaze was first described as 6 feet by 6 feet, but when crews arrived, it was large enough to call in air support. The state Department of Natural Resources sent several helicopters and small air tankers to help the Spokane Fire Department and Spokane County Fire District 9 battle the 9-acre blaze.
“We would not be able to fight this as quickly without the air resources,” said Assistant Chief Brian Schaeffer of the Spokane Fire Department.
Retardant and water drops enabled crews to halt the fire before it reached any homes as it burned through a small valley off Indian Trail Road. Fifty firefighters were on the initial attack, but the force was 120 strong by the time the blaze was 75 percent contained – three hours after it started about 3:45 p.m.
Schaeffer said efficient coordination among fire departments contributed to the day’s success, even as a steady breeze threatened to further fuel the fire.
“We’d be here for days if it wasn’t for that,” he said of what he called the “unified command” based at the intersection of Indian Trail Road and Rutter Parkway.
Three residential complexes were threatened as the fire burned through dry grass and pine trees. One resident sprayed water on her roof as helicopters dropped water from the Little Spokane River.
The terrain was too hazardous – hilly and dry – to put many firefighters on the ground during the initial attack, Schaeffer said. Fires can race up steep hills without warning.
At 7 p.m., helicopters were still dropping water on hot spots, but firefighters had knocked down the blaze.
“We’ll have crews here all night making sure structures are protected and safe,” said spokesman Eric Keller of the DNR.
Meanwhile, about 120 firefighters were fighting a roughly 600-acre wildfire on the Colville Indian Reservation, about 15 miles northeast of the Grand Coulee Dam. That fire started Monday afternoon and has been determined to be arson, said Randy Friedlander, assistant fire management officer at the Mt. Tollman Fire Center in Keller.
No structures were threatened.