A fierce and sudden storm swept through North Idaho late Friday afternoon, sending trees crashing onto homes, knocking out power to thousands and keeping emergency crews racing for hours.
At least 15,000 homes in Kootenai, Bonner and Boundary counties were without power immediately after the storm swept up from the Palouse and blew northeast into Montana. Most of the damage reported initially was from northern Kootenai County to Sandpoint.
Police, fire and medical responders were overwhelmed with calls for help after strong winds with 65 mph gusts, marble-sized hail and lightning blasted through Coeur d’Alene, Hayden, Athol, Sagle and Sandpoint.
The winds tore part of the roof off the volunteer fire department garage in Sagle. “We basically lost half our roof,” Fire Chief Rob Goodyear said. “We’re functioning, but we don’t have any power.”
Wind gusts topping 60 mph were also recorded in Boundary County.
Coeur d’Alene and Kootenai County agencies scrambled to respond to a flurry of 911 calls, including trees down on homes and cars, downed power lines, blocked roads and highways, house and brush fires, and boaters in distress on Lake Pend Oreille. Scores of emergency calls flooded dispatch centers between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
About 8,000 Kootenai Electric Cooperative members lost power, spokeswoman Erika Neff said. Most were in the Rathdrum and Athol areas, and power to many wasn’t expected to be restored until after midnight, Neff said Friday night.
Avista Utilities reported 13,000 customers without power in Sandpoint, 2,400 in the dark in Coeur d’Alene and 460 in Spokane late Friday. About 500 in Hayden and 300 in Post Falls also lost power.
The damage to electrical lines and transformers was blamed on wind-blown trees, said Hugh Imhof, Avista spokesman.
An Idaho State Police dispatcher said power was lost at the Bonner and Boundary county jails and dispatch centers.
The Bonner County dispatch center lost phone service for some time, but its electricity generator helped keep dispatchers working, a supervisor said. “Virtually everyone’s out of power, and we’re just running on generators,” she said.
Trees were reported down throughout the storm’s path, blocking roads and bringing down power lines.
Two large pine trees crashed through Jody and Tricia Krisher’s house on N. Honeysuckle Road in Coeur d’Alene while the family was running an errand.
Also in Coeur d’Alene, a 70-foot black locust tree crashed through three parts of a wooden fence and into the street at 1102 N. First St., downing power and telephone lines and blocking East Summit Avenue. Homeowner James Carkhuff was on his porch when the tree fell.
“I heard this thunderous clap and I thought it was thunder, but it was the tree,” Carkhuff said.
The tree missed his neighbor’s green Pontiac Sunbird by a few inches. “The branches just kind of enveloped it,” he said.
On North Seventh Street, a heavy branch from a large sycamore tree crashed into the roof of a two-story house, knocking the chimney into the yard.
“The wind gusted up like a tornado and I saw the tree go cr-cr-crack,” said neighbor Nick Trindel, who was in his front yard at the time.
Trindel said an older man lived in the house, but no one answered the door.
The calls came in so quickly that rural fire departments issued a general call for volunteer firefighters to help staff stations.
The storm was worst where Coeur d’Alene and Hayden adjoin, according to the National Weather Service in Spokane.
High-powered thunderstorms are not unusual on hot summer afternoons, but Friday’s storm came on a day with relatively mild temperatures, said Jonathan Fox, meteorologist with the weather service.
“This was an awfully strong upper level disturbance,” Fox said.
Although the storm brought lightning, accompanying rain appears to have prevented any major outbreaks of wildfire, according to a dispatcher at the Coeur d’Alene Interagency Dispatch Center. Wild land firefighting crews were kept busy, however, responding to calls of downed trees on Forest Service roads. There were no preliminary reports of injured or trapped campers.
A tornado warning was in effect briefly near Orofino, Idaho.
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