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Improved conditions keep fire from Coulee Dam; evacuations underway near Kettle Falls

UPDATED: Sun., Aug. 12, 2018, 9:16 p.m.

Grand Coulee Dam is seen on Tuesday, April 17, 2018, in Coulee, Wash. Strong winds pushed a fire close to the city of Coulee Dam Saturday, but improved weather conditions and the efforts of firefighters kept area buildings from being burned. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Grand Coulee Dam is seen on Tuesday, April 17, 2018, in Coulee, Wash. Strong winds pushed a fire close to the city of Coulee Dam Saturday, but improved weather conditions and the efforts of firefighters kept area buildings from being burned. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

After a day of heavy winds pushed a fire to nearly 75,000 acres and brought it to the edge of the town of Coulee Dam on Saturday, improving weather conditions helped firefighters keep the blaze at bay.

Level 3 evacuation notices in the towns of Coulee Dam and Grand Coulee were revised down to Level 2 Sunday, as fire crews successfully extinguished hot spots and maintained their perimeter.

“The weather was great,” said Ben Shearer, information officer with the Southeast Washington Interagency Incident Management Team. “The wind lay down, the fire lay down and we lost a couple of degrees” of temperature.

Shearer said that, while Sunday’s estimate of 75,000 was significantly higher than Saturday’s – which put the fire’s size closer to 45,000 acres – the discrepancy was due not to the fire’s growth, but to difficulty in conducting the initial survey while crews were simultaneously battling back the blaze.

“It really didn’t grow all that much between yesterday and today,” he said.

He said it was not yet possible to estimate containment, but that fire crews would do so once hotspots had been dealt with.

The Grass Valley fire started Saturday morning in Douglas County and moved quickly. By nighttime, parts of Coulee Dam were ordered to evacuate.

Five structures were lost, and a firefighter was injured early Saturday and flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

However, the situation was much improved Sunday. State Route 174, which had closed from Grand Coulee to Leahy for the fire, was slated to open at 8 p.m. Sunday, Shearer said.

According to a Department of Natural Resources tweet Saturday, more than 31 wildfires sparked from lightning strikes around Eastern Washington. Heavy winds complicated response efforts, but several of the new fires were contained Saturday.

The area around Kettle Falls in Stevens County was under Level 3 evacuations Sunday. According to a Northeast Washington Interagency news release, the so-called Boyd burned about 3,000 acres and is only 2 percent contained. Two residences and several out buildings have been lost, and power lines are at risk as well.

According to the release, evacuations are in place for state Highway 20 west of the Columbia River to Deadman Creek, and Level 2 evacuations are in place from Deadman Creek to Matson Creek road. Inchelium Highway north of Sherman Creek Orchards is closed. and U.S. Highway 395 is reduced to one lane from Barney’s to Boyd’s junctions as well.

Air resources and 150 personnel are assigned to the fire Sunday and the cause is still under investigation.


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