September 11, 2012 in City

Local firefighters battle blazes across state

Five wildfires have burned thousands of acres
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Associated Press photo

Flames burn at one end of a wildfire Monday near Wenatchee. Crews in Central Washington worked Monday to protect homes from one of the many wildfires burning throughout the West as a destructive fire season stretches into September with no relief expected from the weather anytime soon.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Firefighters from across Washington have been summoned to fight five fast-growing wildfires ignited over the weekend.

The flames have forced evacuations, burned thousands of acres and threaten to raze hundreds of homes.

“I can’t think of a time when we’ve had so many simultaneous mobilizations,” said Spokane Fire Department Assistant Chief Brian Schaeffer, who coordinated the region’s effort to assist.

Fire chiefs in Lincoln, Grant, Douglas and Chelan counties sought help when the blazes exceeded their resources and manpower.

A 2,000-acre fire burning about 40 miles southwest of Spokane near Wilbur continued to spread on Monday, said Jeff Sevigney, a Washington State Patrol officer. The blaze, which was zero percent contained, has been dubbed the Apache Fire.

Residents in 12 homes have been told to be prepared to evacuate.

Lori Ventura, a cook at Billy Burgers in Wilber, said “it’s really smoky and really windy.” But the restaurant was safe and open for business.

A wildfire near Grand Coulee had burned 12,000 acres, according to state fire officials. Residents in more than two dozen homes had been told to evacuate.

The residents of about 180 homes on the west side of Wenatchee were told to evacuate Sunday. A shelter was set up at a church because of the 500-acre blaze that continued to burn in the hills, according to state officials.

And two other fires were burning thousands of acres near Chelan and at White Salmon, officials reported. Lightning is suspected of starting the wildfires.

Spokane and Stevens counties have sent 55 firefighters to help.

Fire danger remained high in Central and Eastern Washington due to strong winds and low humidity, coupled with dry grasses and trees, according to the National Weather Service. A red-flag warning was in effect until 11 p.m. Monday.

As Schaeffer put together firefighter teams he made sure not to sacrifice local safety.

“This stretches resources and puts us in a position where we have to decide to which point we are comfortable sharing our resources,” Schaeffer said. “At this point, we are not sending anymore.”

Spokane Valley Fire Chief Mike Thompson added, “We are pretty much tapped out. We want to make sure that we keep adequate resources close to home.”

Fire agencies throughout the region added manpower Monday as a precaution.

“We have a long duration and a lot of wind,” Thompson said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry by having extra staffing.”


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