Local news

Backyard pit sparked wildfire

Recreational fire ‘got away’; blaze 60 percent contained

A recreational fire was responsible for the blaze that destroyed 13 homes in the Ponderosa area of Spokane Valley, officials said Saturday.

A fire in a backyard pit “got away” in high winds Thursday afternoon, according to Dale Warrnier, information officer for the state interagency team that relieved local firefighters.

Warrnier said 336 firefighters from as far as Western Washington had the fire 60 percent contained Saturday evening.

“We’re on a track maybe to be out of here on Tuesday or Wednesday morning,” Warrnier said.

He said he couldn’t identify the home where the fire started in the northwest corner of the burned area, west of Park Road.

Asked whether charges may be filed against the responsible party, Warrnier said, “We’re just going to have to see how the investigation goes.”

Meanwhile, Avista Corp. had restored service to most customers in the area.

Avista spokeswoman Jessie Wuerst said natural gas was shut off Thursday as a precaution but was back on Saturday throughout the fire area.

Wuerst urged residents not to attempt to relight their natural gas appliances on their own, but to call (800) 227-9187 and let Avista workers handle the job.

She said only about 20 homes, including those that burned, were still without electricity. About 1,000 customers were without power at the height of the outage Thursday.

Meanwhile, Wuerst said, crews were struggling to restore electricity to about 770 of the Colville-area customers, down from an estimated 8,000 who lost power Thursday in the same windstorm that fanned the Spokane Valley fire.

Avista officials hoped to have the Stevens County customers back online today.

Wuerst said the work was “very challenging for our crews” because the outages are scattered across a large, mountainous area.

Also spread by Thursday’s high winds, a group of human-caused fires destroyed two homes and threatened 50 near the Stevens County community of Barstow. Dubbed the Doyle complex, the fires were expected to be contained by Monday.

Firefighters didn’t expect the fires to grow much beyond the 900 acres of timberland that had burned by Saturday evening in Stevens and Ferry counties.

Also Saturday, the Badger complex north of Wenatchee had burned 13,349 acres – nearly 21 square miles.

Fire spokesman Dave Cox said the evacuation order for about 210 residences in the Badger Mountain area was raised Saturday to Level 3, the highest. It tells residents that if they don’t evacuate and something bad happens, rescuers likely won’t be able to reach them.

The 8,800-acre Badger Mountain fire was 50 percent contained on Saturday. The other fire in the complex, the 4,200-acre Browns Canyon fire, was 70 percent contained.

And the Cayuse fire 14 miles east of Okanogan had burned 1,500 acres in timber, grass and sagebrush.

There were 287 firefighters, aided by four helicopters, battling the blaze on Saturday, said Paul Norman, information officer for the Interagency Coordination Center in Portland.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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