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Another big storm slams into region

Fires, fallen trees, blackouts keep emergency officials busy

Another strong thunderstorm hit the northern parts of Spokane and Spokane County on Saturday evening, downing trees and power lines and sparking many brush fires.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said Saturday evening that every resource available in Spokane County Fire District 4 was out fighting fires and resources from other districts were coming to the district’s assistance.

The storm came 10 days after high winds caused power outages to about 60,000 customers in northeast Washington and North Idaho. Many didn’t have power for several days.

Avista Utilities reported late Saturday that it expects to take up to 48 hours for many to get power back.

Fire District 4 Chief Randy Johnson called the aftermath of the storm “Groundhog Day.”

The district was hit hard by downed trees in the July 23 storm.

After Saturday’s storm, 25 incidents were called into the district within two hours.

He said a tree came down on a car on Lakeside Drive near Reflection Lake. Two people had to be extricated. He said he had no details on injuries.

Some residents were evacuated near a fire at Jim Hill Road and U.S. Highway 2, Johnson said. The fire, the largest of many brush fires, had burned about 40 acres.

“We had fire on both sides of the highway,” Johnson said.

The district along with assisting fire departments also was battling two 10-acre fires near Day-Mt. Spokane and Randall roads.

Avista Utilities was reporting about 48,000 customers without power Saturday night. That’s more outages than the company experienced in the July storm. Inland Power and Light reported more than 2,000 customers without power.

Northern Lights Electric in North Idaho was reporting 9,500 customers, mostly in Bonner County, especially in the Sandpoint area, without power. Kootenai Electric Cooperative reported more than 2,000 customers without power.

Vera Water and Power in Spokane Valley reported 30 customers without power. Modern Electric Water Co., also in Spokane Valley, confirmed it had outages but could not immediately provide details.

Trees blocked many roads, including Francis Avenue near Salk Middle School and Wall Street south of Country Homes Boulevard. As darkness fell, many of the downed trees were difficult to see and posed a danger to drivers.

“We have a lot of trees and things down,” Knezovich said.

Whitworth University lost numerous trees in the storm. One fell on Cowles Auditorium and a large pine tree crumbled the brick façade on the west end of Warren Hall. About 20 trees fell on campus and four of them hit buildings, said Jeremiah White of Whitworth’s Facilities Services Department.

Several youth sports camps were being held on campus, but no one was injured, White said. The college was using several generators Saturday night to provide power to campus buildings.

Whitworth officials are asking people to stay off campus. Several trees are leaning dangerously, White said. Several campus roads were blocked, including the main entrance.

One tree struck the roof of the Whitworth Presbyterian Church. The ceiling inside buckled and some roof trusses are likely damaged, said the Rev. Daniel White. “It’s unsafe for people to be inside,” he said.

The pastor called a quick meeting to plan two abbreviated outdoor services for today at 9 and 11 a.m.

The church has a small emergency fund but there’s no way to know yet how expensive repairs will be, the pastor said. “I don’t know what happens beyond (Sunday),” he said.

Avista spokeswoman Jessie Wuerst said the July storm caused the worst damage to Avista’s power infrastructure since the infamous 1996 ice storm. She said the power company was scrambling crews Saturday evening to assess the new damage. The worst damage appeared to be in many of the same areas hit July 23, she said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Tobin said the highest wind gust report from the storm was 68 mph near Wellpinit, Washington. Most of the higher gusts were measured in the 35 to 45 mph range, though Felts Field measured a gust of 48 mph and the airport in Sandpoint had a gust of 56 mph.

Tobin said that while the weather service received some reports of heavy rain, many places had no rain or only trace amounts. Felts Field and Spokane International Airport had no rain from the storm. Coeur d’Alene had less than a 10th of an inch.

Jonathan Brunt and Nina Culver contributed to this report.

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