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Wind knocking out power, fueling fires in region

Mon., July 12, 2010, 5:35 p.m.

Power outages

A strong cold front is bringing gusty winds and numerous power outages to the Inland Northwest today from a marked change from the hot July temperatures over the past four days.

Winds gusted to 44 mph late this morning and then to 48 mph just after 3 p.m.

Avista Utilities reported two large power outages this afternoon affecting 600 customers in St. Maries and 287 customers in Othello. The St. Maries outage was fixed by 2 p.m.

Afternoon gusts triggered another series of outages, including ones affecting about 1,000 customers in north central Spokane and 2,550 customers in Colville.

Several outages involving fewer than 100 customers each also were reported in the Spokane area.

A plume of dust was visible on satellite weather images this afternoon extending from Grant County eastward across Lincoln County.

Visibility at the Spokane airport dropped to two miles by 3 p.m.

Grant County emergency officials said zero visibility forced closure of Stratford Road near Stratford and County Road 20-NE east of Soap Lake. An accident occurred on County Road 20-NE.

A traffic accident was reported in Adams County south of Ritzville where zero visibility was occurring along state Highway 261. The highway was closed due to blowing dust, the Washington State Patrol reported.

More moderate winds were occurring elsewhere in the Columbia Basin and not causing widespread visibility problems, although forecasters said that it is possible high winds could strike the dust-prone basin later today.

Interstate 90 through the basin appeared to have good visibility based on traffic camera images from the Washington Department of Transportation.

Ellensburg this morning was reporting wind gusts in excess of 50 mph, but visibility remained good from the west winds spilling over the Cascades.

Highs in the Spokane area may reach the upper 70s today.

The National Weather Service has posted advisories for the windy conditions, which will cause problems for wild fire control.

Earlier today, visibility remained good with no dust showing on traffic cameras operated by DOT. The weather service reported blowing dust in Spokane and Walla Walla at 11 a.m., but not at its other main reporting stations in Washington.

Winds should subside this evening.

A fire was burning overnight in the Wenatchee area along U.S. Highway 97A to the north of that city.

John Livingston, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said that some smoke from that fire may have been carried to the Spokane area with the wind.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources reported a 30-acre fire was burning near Northport and threatening structures Monday evening.

Cheney-area firefighters Monday afternoon fought a fire in a two-story home west of Salnave Road near the intersection of Malloy Prairie and Wood roads.

Firefighters reported that the fire was started when a falling tree hit a power line, triggering an electrical surge that ignited the home in Fire District No. 3. The fire then extended into a surrounding hay field, which charred a couple of acres before being brought under control.

Spokane firefighters were fighting a three-acre fire on Beacon hill Monday afternoon. Spokane crews also were called to a brush fire near Euclid Avenue and Havana Street.

A two-acre brush fire was burning in Coeur d’Alene at mid-afternoon.

Another fire was burning at an old lumber mill near the Clarkston Golf & Country Club in Asotin County in southeast Washington, according to the Lewiston Morning Tribune.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources today announced a burn ban to protect state-protected lands through the summer. Fires will only be allowed in designated recreational fire pits. Gas or propane cooking devices are also permitted.

The weather change is being brought by a repeat of the springtime pattern in which strong low pressure systems have developed off the coast of British Columbia and then moved inland.

The newest low is not expected to bring any rain or showers, but will cause temperatures to drop to the upper 40s tonight and lower 70s on Tuesday.

Sunday’s high at Spokane International Airport was 91.

Normal temperatures for today are 82 for a high and 54 for a low.

Warm weather returns on Wednesday when highs go into the lower 80s and lows rebound into the middle 50s. Highs in the upper 80s are likely through the weekend.

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