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Wildfire burning 70,000 acres closes I-90 near Vantage; Spokane wakes up to smoky skies

UPDATED: Fri., July 20, 2018, 9:30 p.m.

A wildfire in Kittitas County burned more than 70,000 acres and closed lanes of Interstate 90 near Vantage.

Westbound lanes were opened Friday morning between Vantage and Ellensburg. Later Friday, the left-hand eastbound lane was reopened – though with speeds restricted to 40 miles per hour and a pilot car leading traffic – from the Kittitas interchange to the Vantage bridge. Evacuations were ordered in Kittitas County and Wanapum State Park during the day.

The Boylston fire is among several that have scorched scrubland and wheat fields in central and Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon.

The state Department of Natural Resources said the Boylston fire exploded in size Thursday evening. Five hand crews, five engines and two helicopters were on the scene Friday afternoon, though the terrain made it difficult for ground crews to get close to the fire, the agency said.

The Grant County Public Utilities District said two recreational areas were closed because the fire had damaged facilities and firefighting aircraft were scooping water from the Columbia River.

Smoke drifted into Spokane overnight Thursday, and early Friday the air quality was listed as “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” though it improved throughout the day and reached the lower “moderate” ranges by Friday evening. The area remained under “red flag” conditions Friday as humidity dropped and the wind picked up.

The Substation fire in Eastern Oregon grew to more than 70,000 acres Friday morning as whipping winds continued to fan wildland flames across Wasco and Sherman counties, the Oregonian reported.

The fire was spotted Tuesday afternoon south of the Celilo Converter Station east of The Dalles, and the Wasco County Sheriff’s Office has opened a criminal investigation into the blaze, which took the life of a 64-year-old man, the newspaper reported. John Ruby’s body was found Wednesday afternoon in a burned tractor; he appears to have been trying to protect his neighbor’s property by cutting a fire line.

The fire also has prompted widespread evacuation orders. Hot, dry gusts throughout the weekend are expected to challenge the hundreds of firefighters battling the fire, which was 15 percent contained as of Friday.

The L Road fire near the town of Vernita in Benton County had burned 29,000 acres and was 40 percent contained as of Friday, according to the Department of Natural Resources. Officials said the blaze was moving northeast toward Saddle Mountain.

A 15-mile stretch of state Highway 24 was closed in both directions, from the junction of state Highway 243 near the Vernita Bridge to a point about 10 miles west of Othello, the Transportation Department said. Photos showed a line of flames burning up to the edge of the highway. There was no prediction of when the road would reopen.

The Upriver Beacon fire in northeast Spokane was 90 percent contained as of Friday evening, with crews patrolling 115 acres of scorched land in search of hot spots.

All evacuation orders had been lifted and all roads reopened, though Camp Sekani and the climbing rocks at Shields Park remained closed. Officials asked that people stay away from the fire area.

The fast-moving blaze started Tuesday afternoon on private property at 6413 E. Upriver Drive and quickly overtook a house and two outbuildings. The fire also downed power lines and damaged biking trails. No injuries were reported. The cause of the fire remained under investigation.

Officials said 160 personnel remained on the scene Friday, with three hand crews, 20 fire engines and four water tenders. A command post was established at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center.

The Buckshot fire near the towns of Mattawa and Desert Aire in Grant County had burned more than 1,000 acres and was 20 percent contained as of Friday, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

State resources had been authorized to help fight the blaze, which started Thursday afternoon and had threatened several homes as well as crop fields and infrastructure.

The Fields Point fire south of Lake Chelan had burned about 50 acres as of Friday, according to the Department of Natural Resources. Firefighters on the ground were receiving help from a tanker plane and two helicopters.

The Old CC fire, about 10 miles southwest of Colville in Stevens County, was nearing 100 percent containment Friday. It burned about 29 acres of steep, wooded terrain that presented firefighters with the danger of falling tree snags, officials said.

All air support had been released from the scene as of Friday afternoon. About 150 personnel stayed to monitor the area for hot spots. Officials said an infrared camera would be used Friday night to look for hot spots not visible to the naked eye.

The fire was reported Wednesday evening at an active logging site near Old CC Road. The cause remained under investigation.


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