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Strong storm cuts power to thousands, sparks fires; fire boat sinks near Bayview

Tens of thousands of Inland Northwest residents remain without power today following Saturday’s high winds and thunderstorms across the region.

The storm hit 10 days after a similar series of thunderstorms roughed up Eastern Washington and North Idaho. Saturday’s wild weather knocked down trees, sparked brush fires and caught boaters by surprise on area lakes.

A fire boat on Lake Pend Oreille was swamped during a rescue attempt. Wind also ripped off part of the roof of the Five Mile Prairie Grange at 3024 W. Strong Road on Spokane’s north end.

Avista said its crews are working to restore service to about 24,000 customers as of 3:45 p.m. today. At the height of the outage, more than 48,000 Avista customers were without power.

Transmission and distribution lines primarily were damaged in the storm, according to the utility’s preliminary estimates. Most damage appears to be from large tree branches that hit power lines, Avista said.

Especially hard-hit were areas in north-central Spokane, Deer Park, Colbert and Colville, as well as Sandpoint and Priest River in Idaho.

More than 14,000 Avista customers are still without power in the Sandpoint area. Northern Lights Inc. said about 11,600 of its customers remain without electricity. The storm damaged a Bonneville Power Administration transmission line in Bonner County, but that line was repaired and operating again by 9 a.m. today.

About 4,000 Pend Oreille Public Utility District customers are without power from the storm. “At this time, we’re uncertain about time estimates for power restoration for all of the areas affected,” said Keith Cordes, the utility’s line superintendent. “We do know that this storm did at least as much damage as the July 23 storm.”

The storm packed a wallop across the region. More than 300 incidents were dispatched Saturday by the Communications Center in Spokane County. The Spokane Fire Department had its hands full with 149 incidents, including four structure fires, 104 EMS incidents, three serious vehicle collisions, two major hazardous materials incidents and many brush fires.

In Kootenai County, the sheriff’s 911 center dispatched 138 calls for service between 3 p.m. Saturday and 1 a.m. today. Power lines were knocked down all over the county, igniting several small grass fires and causing outages, Lt. Stu Miller of the sheriff’s office said. Stop lights weren’t working on U.S. Highway 95 north of Hayden, Miller said.

A fire boat attempting a water rescue Saturday evening on Lake Pend Oreille got into trouble in the high waves and partially sunk, requiring the four firefighters on board to be rescued themselves.

The Kootenai County Sheriff’s office responded about 8 p.m. to a boat taking on water in Bayview. “Water conditions were extreme to say the least,” Miller said. “Swells were hitting the 6- to 8-foot mark.”

The Timberlake Fire Protection District boat located two people up against the shoreline, about a half mile north of Lakeview in Bonner County. “Unfortunately, while they were attempting to rescue the two, the fireboat became swamped,” Miller said.

The sheriff’s office rescued the stranded boaters as well as the four firefighters. Both boats were mostly sunk and were tied to the shoreline for the night. Bonner County will recover the boats.

Residents in the Five Mile were asked to conserve water today after the storm knocked out power to the area’s water booster station. The Spokane Water Department said residents there should turn off all lawn irrigation and limit water use to drinking and cooking needs.

Crews have installed a generator at the booster station but it’s not powerful enough to run all of the pumps, the city said this morning. The water department is working with Avista Utilities to try to restore full power to the pump station as soon as possible.

Downed power lines sparked three wildfires north of Spokane, the largest of them growing to about 45 acres along Jim Hill Road in Chattaroy. Two smaller fires broke out along North Madison Road southwest of Mount Spokane.

Fire crews were on all three fires through the night and had them contained this morning, said Randy Johnson, chief of Spokane County Fire District 4.

Some homeowners near the Jim Hill fire were evacuated Saturday evening, but no structures were damaged and no injuries reported on any of the three fires, Johnson said.

Firefighters will remain on the scenes to mop up the fires today, he added.

In North Idaho, the Idaho Transportation Department was working to remove downed trees from roadways. A lot of debris was left in emergency lanes and on the shoulders of U.S. Highway 95 and other roadways, the Idaho State Police said.

Avista crews from areas not affected by the storm along with contract and mutual aide crews from Boise, Moses Lake and areas in Eastern Washington are relocating to assist local crews.

Customers can view outage status on Avista’s website at They also can report outages online and through their mobile device or by calling (800) 227-9187.