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Crews work about 40 fires across region

6-acre fire contained near Arbor Crest winery

A six-acre fire north of Spokane Valley near Arbor Crest winery was surrounded by bulldozer lines early this morning, and state firefighters were mopping up the blaze, which is in the vicinity of Fruit Hill Road.

Jill Jones, fire incident coordinator for the state Department of Natural Resources, said an investigator was dispatched to the scene to determine the cause.

Elsewhere across northern Washington, firefighters were working on about 40 separate fires triggered by lightning from thunderstorms that came in two separate outbreaks on Tuesday.

The Fruit Hill Road fire apparently was not caused by lightning. It was initially reported at 12:30 a.m., several hours after the Tuesday night thunderstorms that stayed to the north of the Spokane region. The fire was contained within the bulldozer line and was 30 percent mopped up as of 8 a.m.

Todd Carter, a National Weather Service forecaster, said about 2,000 lightning strikes occurred late Monday and early Tuesday from an initial round of thunderstorms across the northern mountains from the Cascade crest eastward into North Idaho. A second wave of storms that developed Tuesday afternoon brought another 1,000 strikes between about 3 p.m. and 9 p.m.

The risk of thunderstorms is diminishing today. A weak cold front that moved southward from Canada on Tuesday has exited the region this morning, leaving the Inland Northwest under slightly cooler and more stable atmospheric conditions compared with the hot, humid conditions that had triggered repeated rounds of thunderstorms since the middle of last week.

Fires from the earlier storms had been largely contained, officials said.

A fire was burning on 700 acres near Chelan with residents in about 140 homes told to evacuate. Residents of another 60 homes were told to prepare for evacuation. A shelter has opened at Chelan High School, according to the Wenatchee World newspaper.

So far this fire season, the Department of Natural Resources has reported nearly 700 fires, which is about 50 percent above the average of 464 by this time of year over the past 10 years. However, the acreage involved is a little more than half of the average.

Late July and early August is typically the peak of the fire season, the agency said.

The department has 700 employees working on fire suppression, and they have other jobs with the agency during the rest of the year. In addition, it has 375 seasonal fire workers. The department also participates in Washington’s coordinated interagency approach to firefighting.

The Department of Natural Resrouces protects 12.7 million acres of state, private and tribal lands.