Firefighters have made significant progress against the wildfires burning near Spokane, but dry weather and steep terrain continue to pose problems.
As of Tuesday afternoon, crews had contained most of the Wellesley fire burning near Beacon Hill in north Spokane.
“The Wellesley fire is pretty much ringed up,” said incident commander Rick Isaacson. “They’re just mopping up hot spots right now. It’s looking good.”
The same couldn’t be said about the Yale Road fire near Valleyford, which still was burning heavy timber on a hillside below wheat fields. Mandatory evacuation orders Tuesday were reduced to Level 1 in the evening.
Firefighters were working to keep the fire within its current footprint. But Isaacson said changes in wind direction could cause the fire “to do all kinds of silly things.”
Authorities initially reported that a downed power line ignited the Yale fire. But Isaacson and Trooper Jeff Sevigney of the Washington State Patrol said they couldn’t confirm that Tuesday.
“It’s going to take an investigation to figure out what started it, and that could take a while,” Isaacson said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has authorized emergency funding for the Yale and Wellesley fires. Together called the Spokane Complex, they have burned roughly 3,750 acres and destroyed about a dozen structures, at least five of which were homes.
Northwest of Spokane mandatory evacuation orders have been lifted for Wellpinit. The entire town was evacuated Sunday night because of a wildfire that started in Lincoln County and jumped the Spokane River. The fire has burned 6,000 acres and destroyed 13 homes on the Spokane Indian Reservation, said Jaime Sijohn, a spokeswoman for the tribe.
Firefighters managed to beat back the fire Monday as it came within a mile of downtown Wellpinit, Sijohn said. The town regained power at about 6 p.m. Monday after losing it Sunday and remains under a Level 2 evacuation order, meaning residents should be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
“It’s a large fire, a devastating fire,” Sijohn said. “As of this morning, the firefighters have a strong hold on that fire line.”
Carol Evans, Spokane Tribal Business Council chairwoman, was forced to evacuate from her home along the Spokane River between Long Lake and Little Falls Dam. She took pictures and birth certificates but had to leave her cats.
“When we were going towards Spokane, my daughter said, ‘Do we have the cats?’ ” Evans said. “When you’re told to get out, you get out as fast as you can.”
Evans said she could see the flames from state Route 34. Her house was spared. On Monday she returned to Wellpinit, where she said there was “a sense of loss.”
“I think the elders, the community members, they’re all feeling like they’re lost,” she said. “But on the other hand, there was the feeling of all of the emergency service people working very hard, the community coming together.”
The 16,000-acre blaze is called the Hart Cayuse fire. It had been called the Hart Road fire in Lincoln County and the Cayuse Mountain fire in Stevens County. The Spokane River separates the two.
At least 50 people who either evacuated or lost their homes have taken shelter in the Wellpinit School, a combined middle and high school. Classes there were scheduled to begin Wednesday but were postponed until Monday because of the fire, said John Teters, the school’s registrar.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Hart Cayuse fire is 30 percent contained. The Spokane Tribe has declared a state of emergency for the reservation.
Also in Stevens County, near the town of Northport, crews are struggling to get an upper hand on the Deep North fire, which is burning about 600 acres of densely wooded mountainside.
And in Franklin County, firefighters continue to battle a 22,000-acre blaze that started in Connell and moved east toward Kahlotus, where it knocked out power and forced some residents to evacuate.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.