Bone-dry conditions throughout the Inland Northwest, combined with “erratic, gusty winds,” fueled fires across the region Thursday, charring thousands of acres and destroying at least two homes.
By 9:30 p.m., officials with the Washington Department of Natural Resources said they had no reports of serious injury and relatively few structures were harmed, despite a couple of thousand burning acres.
In Stevens County, officials told residents of the Moran Creek Road, Westover Road and Philleo Road areas to evacuate in the face of a wildfire, called the Slide Creek fire, burning near Arden.
The fire burned an estimated 900 acres and damaged two homes and at least five more structures, said DNR spokesman Brett Walker. Residents of 110 homes were evacuated, and at least 35 of those were still in jeopardy around 9:30 p.m.
The American Red Cross opened a shelter at Colville High School for evacuees, located at 154 Highway 20 East, according to a news release.
A 600-acre fire near Davenport – the second blaze of the day near the city – briefly knocked out power to the whole town. By 9 p.m. Avista had restored power to 2,200 customers, leaving fewer than 100 without service.
Lincoln County Sheriff Wade Magers said the fire, located about four miles south of Davenport near Old Kucks Road, was burning mostly sagebrush in an open space with few homes.
There were no injuries, and only a shed reported lost in the fire. The county requested state assistance Thursday night, Magers said.
An earlier fire a half-mile outside Davenport was quickly brought under control, Magers said. The fire, which burned 200 or so acres of fields near town, put up a lot of smoke and possibly was started by a combine, he said.
The smoke filtered into town, disrupting the first day of the Lincoln County Fair. While the fairgrounds weren’t evacuated, vendors were allowed to leave if they felt the need, he said. One woman was hospitalized with breathing difficulties, he added.
Magers praised volunteer fire crews for getting on the job so quickly.
“If it had jumped Highway 2, we would have been here for a week,” he said.
Highway 2 was briefly closed in both directions.
In Ferry County, the Fish Hatchery Road fire burned 320 acres, four miles north of Republic, the DNR’s Walker said.
The Fish Hatchery Road fire started around 1:30 p.m. DNR confirms the loss of at least one structure. The Red Cross opened a shelter in Republic at Republic Elementary School, located at 30306 Highway 20.
A fire south of Cheney, near Wells and Cheney Plaza roads, was contained Thursday, Walker said. The fire burned through wheat fields, with no injuries and no structures burned. The fire was first reported at 2:25 p.m. Firefighters from Spokane County Fire District 3 responded along with firefighters from other agencies, a dispatcher said.
Additional fires were reported throughout the day near Pullman and Dayton, and in northern Spokane County, near Hazard and Bernhill roads.
For much of the day, the Inland Northwest was under a “red-flag warning,” issued by the National Weather Service when high winds, combined with already-dry conditions, increase the threat of fire.
The wind blew smoke and dust throughout the region, prompting the Spokane Regional Air Quality Agency to list the conditions outside as “unhealthy,” and at times making driving difficult.
A wind gust of 41 mph was recorded at Felts Field, and the unofficial gust reading at Spokane International Airport was 39 mph, said Steve Bodner, with the weather service in Spokane.
While weather conditions today will be “a little breezy,” Bodner said, it should be significantly more calm than Thursday, averaging 10 to 15 mph. And cooler too, which will be good news for any fire crews in the region mopping up Thursday’s fires. The forecast calls for a high in Spokane of 69 degrees, he said.
By Saturday, the cooling trend will accelerate. Saturday morning in Spokane will be cool, into the lower 40s. Known cold spots, such as Deer Park and Priest Lake, he said, could dip down near freezing.