July 29, 2014 in City

Fire below High Drive spurs neighbors, fire crews, aircraft into action

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Picture story: High Drive brush fire
Tyler Tjomsland photoBuy this photo

Golfers at Qualchan tee off as a brush fire on the slope below High Drive flares up.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

UPDATE 8 a.m.: Crews have the fire that sparked Monday afternoon near High and Sky View drives 100 percent contained as of Tuesday morning, Spokane Fire Department spokesman Brian Schaeffer said.

Investigators will be on-scene today trying to determine what caused the fire, though Schaeffer said it is believed the blaze was man-made.

Firefighters will remain on site to monitor hot spots, Schaeffer said. One flare-up occurred overnight that was quickly extinguished, he said. Area residents can expect to hear chainsaws Tuesday as crews fell some timber and mop up what’s left of the fire, Schaeffer said.

Original story continues below:

Sharon Anderson looked out the window of her South Hill home Monday afternoon to see a plume of smoke rising from the woods just beyond her deck.

“I yelled ‘Fire!’ and I ran out, and he ran out to call 911,” Anderson said from her deck Monday evening along High Drive, motioning to her husband, Mark.

Flames enveloped roughly 30 acres of timberland south of High Drive and north of the Creek at Qualchan Golf Course on Monday afternoon, Spokane Fire Department spokesman Brian Schaeffer said. Crews were able to get the fire mostly contained Monday evening, he said.

Firefighters shut down the road and dragged hoses down the street, shooting torrents of water out of backyards into billowing smoke that shifted east and west as the afternoon dragged on.

Neighborhood residents began dousing their own homes, turning on sprinkler systems as a pair of firefighting pontoon planes dropped blue fire retardant in diving runs overhead. Nick Zurlini, 18, paused from hosing down his roof to snap a photo of one of the planes diving overhead.

“That was awesome, they just flew right up the hill,” Zurlini said, setting the hose down.

“That’s the only work he’s done all week,” his father, Jack Zurlini, joked on the lawn below.

Avista Utilities cut power to some homes, and voluntary evacuations were ordered as the blaze threatened several homes along the south side of the scenic cliff drive. Dozens of onlookers paused to take photographs as smoke billowed above the treeline for several hours.

Schaeffer said late Monday more state resources had been called in to battle the blaze. As of 7 p.m., he said the fire was about 50 percent contained and firefighters were cycling in and out of the fire line for relief from the heat.

Temperatures flirted with 100 degrees at the top of the cliff, but the quiet winds probably saved the neighborhood, Jack Zurlini said.

“If there was a wind here, forget it,” Zurlini said. “We’d be gone. This whole area would be evacuated.”

Police shut down most of High Drive between Manito Boulevard and Latawah Street so engines could access hydrants in the area. Firefighters also hiked in to the blaze from below, assisted by crews shooting water from hoses off the back porches and backyards of homes including the Andersons’ and their neighbors’.

Crews did not say what caused Monday’s blaze, but neighbors said there was a fire pit along the trails that wound around the cliff side, and volunteers had rousted some people from camps in the area over the weekend.

Monday’s blaze came as crews throughout Washington continued to battle wildfires statewide. Crews declared the massive Carlton Complex fire, which swallowed an estimated 300 homes in Okanogan County, 66 percent contained earlier Monday. The American Red Cross is covering costs at coin-op laundries in the area, and Monday night officials said they’d been so overwhelmed by donations they are no longer accepting goods.

The investigation into a Lincoln County-sparked blaze that scorched more than 10,000 acres near Fishtrap Lake Resort is continuing, Sheriff Wade Magers said. Authorities are still looking for a yellow pickup truck and three or four men who were seen target shooting before the fire sparked earlier this month, Magers said.

Sharon Anderson counted herself lucky for the assistance of neighbors, though the smoke continued to billow just beyond her back fence late Monday.

“They just ran across the street and were manning hoses, and we had the sprinklers on,” she said.


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