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Fearing stuck drivers, Spokane County closes roads

All county roads in the southern and western portions of Spokane County were closed Friday because of drifting snow.

The roads, which cover hundreds of miles, will be reopened one by one as weather conditions improve and the roads are cleared, said Spokane County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Dave Reagan.

The closures affect areas south of Freeman, Spangle and Cheney, and west of Cheney, Airway Heights and Medical Lake.

All civilian motorized travel is prohibited on county roads in those areas, but emergency vehicles are allowed, Reagan said.

The county declared a state of emergency Friday, which allows officials to contract for extra resources, including snowplows, without going through the usual bid process.

People who are at home should stay home, Reagan said. If people are at work, they should not try to get to their homes in those areas.

“Motorists who violate the emergency ordinance place themselves at risk of becoming stranded miles from help,” according to the Spokane Department of Emergency Management.

“We want people to stay home and stay safe,” Reagan said. “We’re afraid people are going to start dying.”

Trying to stay warm in a stuck car can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, Reagan warned, and trying to walk away from a stranded car could lead to hypothermia.

“If someone is stranded, we don’t know how long it will be before someone can come help,” he said.

Driving has been treacherous on the Palouse. U.S. Highway 195 in Whitman County and U.S. Highway 95 in southern Kootenai County were closed for part of Friday.

To the east, on the Idaho-Montana line, U.S. Highway 12 remains closed on the west side of Lolo Pass. Avalanches still have not been cleared from last week. And Idaho officials say nearly all roads are impassable in southern Kootenai County because of drifting snow

The weather was dominating discussion Friday at the Feeding Station in Tekoa, Wash., said co-owner Shawn Smith. Some say this is the worst winter in a long time, Smith said, and others say “it’s winter, you should get used to it.”

Some Spokane basketball fans made the trip to Pullman on Thursday night despite warnings of road closures and impending weather conditions. And some decided not to risk the return drive.

That meant no vacancies at the Holiday Inn Express-Pullman, a desk clerk said. For every cancellation, there was someone there to grab the empty room.

“We’ve heard all kinds of stories from people who came here from all kinds of directions, like having to backtrack for miles,” said Meghan Wiley, the motel’s general manager. “But they are diehard Cougs, so they’ll go through anything to get here.”

Conditions are expected to improve.

The forecast calls for a high in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene near 40 today, which could help reduce the drifting snow.

Wind gusts Friday approached 35 mph, said Jonathan Fox, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. He expected the wind to die down overnight.

The weather service predicted a continuing pattern of lows around freezing at night and daytime highs in the upper 30s or low 40s – perfect for gradually melting snow without causing flooding.

“There are no big rainfall makers, as far as we’re seeing for this week and into next week,” Fox said. “So that’s good.”