Thunderstorm downs lines, fuels fires in Spokane region
A thunderstorm that thrust a giant dust cloud across Eastern Washington and North Idaho on Tuesday evening largely spared the areas hit hard in the last two storms on July 23 and Aug. 2.
Lightning and strong winds contributed to three brush fires started on Peone Road just south of Mount Spokane Park Drive just after 7 p.m. Local fire districts were prepared for the storm, said Department of Natural Resources spokesman Guy Gifford. “We all had resources positioned,” he said. “They had five-plus engines and bulldozers here instantly.”
Despite the rapid response one of the fires spread quickly to burn three outbuildings and damage a house, Gifford said. “I’ve been told this thing in front of me was a barn,” Gifford said from the scene. “It’s just flattened. There’s nothing left.”
Power lines were downed in the area, but the cause of the fires is still under investigation. The three fires had burned a combined 10 acres as of 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, and firefighters were still working to control the flames.
The storm hit Spokane Valley hardest, with numerous power lines down early in the evening. As the storm continued, additional lines came down in north Spokane and on the South Hill.
Spokane International Airport was reporting gusts at 30 mph just before 7 p.m., well short of the gusts that measured above 60 mph on July 23. A wind gust of 47 mph was recorded at Felts Field. The National Weather Service had predicted that the line of strong thunderstorms could produce wind gusts to 60 mph.
The Washington State Patrol reported zero visibility in some areas and several accidents in Whitman and Adams counties due to blowing dust that arrived resembling a wall of wind-driven sand seen during desert haboobs.
The accidents included a three-car, two-semitruck crash on Interstate 90 about 21 miles west of Ritzville, a two-semitruck crash on State Route 26 in the town of Dusty and a two-car crash on U.S. Highway 395 about 26 miles south of Ritzville.
The Grant County Sheriff’s Office ordered the evacuation of the Grant County Fairgrounds at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday when nearly 8,000 people were there for the county fair. Events scheduled for Tuesday evening, including two concerts, were canceled.
The Post Falls Police Department reported one home with several branches through the roof.
Avista utilities reported nearly 10,000 customers without power in Spokane, Spokane Valley, Othello, the Palouse and Grangeville area at the height of the storm.
Inland Power and Light was reporting just over 3,700 without power at 8:30 p.m. Kootenai County Electric had only 170 customers without power.
A red flag warning for severe fire danger is in effect across the region.