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Man dies in Stevens County fire evacuation; several homes lost

UPDATED: Sat., Aug. 15, 2015

Several blazes in Stevens County stretched fire forces thin early Saturday as they battled massive flames

“We dealt with a fire that was probably 4,000 acres, and we fought it with 11 volunteers, period,” said Chief Rick Anderson Stevens County Fire District 2 in southeastern Stevens County on Saturday evening. “I just got home after 30 hours.”

With fire crews overwhelmed, some homeowners battled the flames themselves.

“It’s a mess,” said Paul Kreis, who battled a different blaze in central Stevens County. “It came quickly. We didn’t get no warning.”

Kreis, his brother Charles, and his nephew Christopher worked early into Saturday morning to protect their Addy, Washington, home on Townsend-Sackman Road.

The Kreis’ defense of their land has become a necessary step in a state slammed by fires. The fires on what’s been named the Colville Complex have burned roughly 6,000 acres. One man died during an evacuation near Fruitland, an unincorporated town on the east side of Lake Roosevelt.

State resources are overburdened, and being sent to other, harder-hit areas, said James Caruso, director of Stevens County emergency management.

“We’re appealing for more resources, for more help,” Caruso said. “Unfortunately, we aren’t the only ones that need help.”

The Kreis family has lived in the home for more than 60 years, Charles said. Early Saturday morning they cleared brush by the road and sprayed the smoldering hillside down with a water truck borrowed from Hanson Logging.

“I’ve seen a lot of fires and this one here is pretty ugly,” said Kyle Mccanna, a friend of the Kreis family. “This sucker here is one ugly sucker.”

Although Kreis house survived the night, on Saturday afternoon the family still warily watched the hillside above their house. Their three children ate popsicles, which due to a power outage were quickly melting. Debby Kreis, Paul’s wife, was simply amazed their home was still standing.

“As long as everybody’s safe that’s all I care about,” she said.

Stevens County has been declared a disaster area by Stevens County Commissioners on Friday to allow the mobilization of other in-state fire resources. However, Caruso said there was nothing available as of Saturday evening.

“We have tired people fighting it on the ground,” he said referring to some volunteer and professional firefighters who have worked nearly two-days straight. “This is like a landslide, it has hit all at once.”

The fire near Fruitland in southwestern Stevens County was sparked by lightning on Thursday on the Spokane Indian Reservation, said Stevens County Fire District 2 Chief Rick Anderson. It was about six-acres and had a bulldozer line around it Friday morning. Tribal firefighters finished up and left the scene.

But it blew up in high winds Friday.

“It was running really, really hard. We’re talking hundreds of acres an hour,” Anderson said. “There’s nothing you can do but watch it go and try and get people out of the way.”

The district focused on evacuations and structure protection.

One man died when he went back to his property to move a bulldozer to a safer location.

“He collapsed after he got off the equipment,” said Don Dashiell, a Stevens County commissioner who is also a volunteer firefighter for Stevens County District 2.

His family called 911 for help, but the only way to access the home, Carpenter Road, was blocked by fire.

“The fire swept over the road. We couldn’t access there,” Anderson said. “It was one way in and one way out.”

He said he’s proud of the support firefighters have had from residents, but that the fire is tough on the community and the department.

“His mom babysat me. I farmed their place. I bought their cattle,” Anderson said of the man who died in the evacuation. “These aren’t statistics. It’s pretty personal.”

Five residences burned, and Anderson said about 50 more still were threatened Saturday night.

Anderson, whose father helped start the fire district in 1958, said the community has never experienced a fire this significant.

“We called for mutual aid, I said anybody in the county, please come and help me. There was nobody to help.”

He requested state officials to mobilize state resources.

“They said, ‘Yup, you got it. Sorry, there is nobody to send.’”

But he stressed he has no complaints given the intense fires that were threatening many communities at the same time throughout the state. And state resources trickled in Saturday until there were about 40 firefighters working it by the end of the Saturday. Planes and a helicopter also were assisted Saturday.

Stevens County Fire District 5 Chief Les Schneiter said in an interview at about 2 a.m. Saturday that eight homes had burned in what is being called the Marble Valley fire, which is within the Colville Complex. Multiple fire districts responded to the Addy area fire, he said. However, Department of Natural Resources crews were scarce because of fire activity across the Inland Northwest.

DNR, the Forest Service and local fire crews are battling fires near Addy, Fruitland and Republic and Chelan, Washington.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen,” Schneiter said.

Officials believe the Marble Valley fire started Thursday night after a lightning strike near Addy.

Early morning Saturday, Schneiter and his crew were monitoring the fire from Scott Lamica’s home on Marble Valley-Basin Road. Schneiter said his crews were mostly doing structure protection. Because of high winds, no air support was available. The lack of air support, and ground resources, meant actively fighting the fire was nearly impossible, he said. On Saturday there was still no air support, although Lamica’s home remain untouched.

Schneiter said the wind was continuing to push the fire north.

Although Caruso didn’t know the exact number of homes, or acres had burned, he said it was significant.

“We know it’s a large amount,” he said. “We’re going to find a lot of homes gone.”

Larry Brashler, an 8-year Colville fire department veteran was blown away by the magnitude of the burn.

“It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It’s not over yet.

Citizens were bringing food, drinks and clothing to firefighters and displaced residents. Wendy Granville, of Colville, brought a load of crackers, Gatorade drinks and clothing to a staging area for Steven County Fire District 7 firefighters.

“I think the fire fight is going very well for the resources we have,” said Joe Paccerelli, the chief of district 7.

The Red Cross has established shelters at Gess Elementary and Jenkins High School in Chewelah.

Widespread power outages in Stevens County contributed to the confusion. An Avista Utilities spokesperson said about 11,000 Avista customers went without electricity in the Colville area as a result of high winds and lightning and a problem with a Bonneville Power Administration line that feeds into the Avista grid. The outage briefly affect 911 calls, which were diverted to Spokane County’s 911 system. Most the power was restored by late Saturday afternoon.

Staff editor Jonathan Brunt contributed to this report.

The following is a previous version of this report.

UPDATE: The Marble Valley fire, near Addy, Washington has grown to well over a 2,000 acres, said James Caruso, director of Stevens County emergency management. Meanwhile, a fire near Fruitland, an unincorporated town on the east side of Lake Roosevelt is estimated to be 5,000 acres in size. One person died during the evacuation in Fruitland, he said. Carusos couldn’t comment on the manner of death. Hundreds of evacuations have been issued in both the Fruitland and Marble Valley fires, he said. Stevens County has been declared a disaster area. Caruso said they’re trying to find more resources to fight the fire, although state resources are unavailable.

“We have tired people fighting it on the ground,” he said.

ADDY, Wash. - Several fires in Stevens County stretched state and local fire forces thin overnight, driving some homeowners to battle the flames themselves.

“It’s a mess,” Paul Kreis said. “It came quickly. We didn’t get no warning.”

Kreis, his brother Charles, and his nephew Christopher worked early into the morning to protect their Addy, Washington home on Townsend-Sackman Road. The Kreis family has lived in the home for more than 60 years, Charles said. They cleared brush by the road and sprayed the smoldering hillside down with a water truck borrowed from Hanson Logging.

“I’ve seen a lot of fires and this one here is pretty ugly,” said Kyle Mccanna, a friend of the Kreis family. “This sucker here is one ugly sucker.”

Stevens County Fire District 5 Chief Les Schneiter said at about 2 a.m. Saturday that eight homes had burned in what is being called the Marble Valley fire. Multiple fire districts responded to the Addy area fire, he said. However, the Department of Natural Resources crews were scarce because of fire activity across the Inland Northwest.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Officials believe the Marble Valley fire started Thursday night after a lightning strike near Addy.

Early morning Saturday Schneiter and his crew were monitoring the fire from Scott Lamica’s home on Marble Valley-Basin Road. Schneiter said his crews were mostly doing structure protection. Because of high winds, no air support was available. The lack of air support, and ground resources, meant actively fighting the fire was nearly impossible, he said.

Schneiter said the wind was continuing to push the fire north. DNR planned to bring at least five bulldozers in the morning, he said. Although Steven’s county called for additional help under a countywide mutual aid agreement, Schneiter said there were no more fire resources available.

James Caruso, director of Stevens County emergency management, said the county has declared a state of emergency. DNR, the Forest Service and local fire crews are battling fires near Addy, Hunters/Fruitland and Republic, Washington.

Although Caruso didn’t know exactly how many homes, or acres had burned, he said it was significant.

“We know it’s a large amount,” he said. “We’re going to find a lot of homes gone.”

Larry Brashler, an eight-year Colville fire department veteran was blown away by the magnitude of the burn.

“It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It’s not over yet.

The Red Cross has established shelters at Gess Elementary and Jenkins High School in Chewelah.

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