A brush fire Monday forced the evacuation of a northwest Spokane convent that serves retired nuns in need of assisted living services.
About 60 people were evacuated from the Convent of the Holy Names as the brush fire advanced within 100 yards of the structure at 2911 W. Fort George Wright Drive.
Fire Chief Bobby Williams described the evacuation of the convent as orderly.
“It’s not a hurried or a panicked state,” he said.
Crowds gathered across the Spokane River to watch the flames and heavy smoke that billowed from the fire, which began in a forested area between the convent and the river and was fanned uphill by southeast wind.
But, Williams said, “It didn’t take off and just go crazy like we’ve seen some fires do.”
Debbie Cooper, 43, who lives in the area, said she saw heavy smoke as she walked to the cliff area overlooking the river.
“Within 10 minutes, you could see flames, so I knew it was moving,” Cooper said. “It’s kind of scary, being so hot and with this breeze.”
STA buses and ambulances were used to evacuate employees and 36 nuns from the convent; six were in wheelchairs and 10 were bed-ridden, officials said. The convent has a wing that serves sisters from around the region in need of nursing services. Employees also left in personal vehicles, Williams said.
Fire crews saturated the area around the convent with water, and a Department of Natural Resources helicopter was called in to help fight the fire, Williams said. Between 75 and 100 firefighters helped contain the blaze.
He said three DNR crews and two city crews would work overnight to completely extinguish the fire and help with cleanup.
Crews still were trying to determine the acreage of the fire.
“Somebody estimated 5, but it’s just a rough number,” Williams said.
The fire was about 75 percent contained by 4:30 p.m., Williams said. It started at about 2:30 p.m.
“The way conditions are now, we feel pretty good about the overall fire,” Williams said. “It’s just going to be a lot of mop-up.”
The cause of the fire is under investigation. No injuries were reported.
The fire closed area roads, including the T.J. Meenach Bridge and Downriver Drive between Pettit Drive and the bridge.
The closures prompted Spokane Falls Community College to cancel classes at its campus and at the Institute for Extended Learning’s Lodge and Magnuson buildings Monday evening.
By 9 p.m. Monday, the Community Colleges of Spokane website had posted a notice that all of the facilities would resume normal operations today.