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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Rain helps firefighters at Williams Flats Fire

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 9, 2019

The red area shown on this map is the Williams Flats Fire. It is burning about 50 miles northwest of Spokane on the Colville Indian Reservation.
The red area shown on this map is the Williams Flats Fire. It is burning about 50 miles northwest of Spokane on the Colville Indian Reservation.

An hourslong rain shower helped firefighters stifle the Williams Flats Fire in the Colville Reservation on Friday. But it was not enough to put it out.

Heavier rainstorms are due to roll over the fire on Saturday and Sunday that could further help firefighters, as long as lightning does not start new fires.

Mary Wister, meteorologist with Northwest Incident Management Team 8, said Friday’s rain shower had little chance of putting out the Williams Flats Fire that’s burned 40,000 acres and is 25% contained.

“It is hard to put out a fire, but it will suppress it to a large degree,” she said.

As of about 3 p.m., about 0.04 of an inch of rain had fallen on the fire, Wister said.

The thunderstorms this weekend are expected to bring heavy rain – perhaps up to half an inch.

As of Friday, firefighters had surrounded the burned area on all fronts. On the north front, crews were preparing to defend multiple houses, said Mel Durrant, operations specialist. Crews used sprinklers to water the area around the houses and cleared logs and underbrush away from the ground leading up to them, he said.

He said one structure was damaged in the fire: an outhouse that burned near the Whitestone Lookout in the northern area of the fire.

Fire crews could contain the entire southern front of the fire by Friday night, he said.

Between the east front of the fire and the bank of Lake Roosevelt, multiple fire engines and fire crews were fighting the fire as of Friday at noon. The fire had not progressed completely to the bank of the lake in that spot, but another spot south of the fire had burned about 4 miles, said Kathy Moses, spokeswoman for the Williams Flats Fire.

To the east of the fire, authorities from the Spokane Reservation trolled the lake in boats and stopped boaters from passing north and south of the fire on Friday, Moses said.

She said the fire has not jumped the river, which has been a big fear of many people calling into the command center.

Pam Sichting, spokeswoman for the fire, said the rain and a rise in humidity certainly helped.

“The fire activity has moderated,” she said. “A few days ago, the humidity was in the teens. Now it’s up to about 80%.”

But if hail starts falling, which is common during thunderstorms, air operations will likely temporarily cease, because pilots are skittish about flying in hail, she said. Also, the rain might cause some roads to become muddy and hard to pass.

Flash flooding is another potential issue, but as of Friday it was not a major concern of the firefighting effort, said Sichting.

Durrant is one of the 1,237 firefighters and support staff that occupy the headquarters for the fire in Keller. The team working on the fire, called the Northwest Incident Management Team 8, is made up of firefighters and staff from around the northwest.

About 30 miles north of Keller, six evacuees stayed in an evacuation center as of Friday, when 50 homes were under level 3 evacuation orders, 15 homes were under level 2 evacuation notice and 12 homes were under level 1 evacuation notice.

In the fire crews’ camp, a general sickness of colds, called “camp crud,” has spread to some firefighters.

“It runs rampant,” Sichting said.

Some bee stings, twisted ankles, heat exhaustion and minor burns have been the only injuries reported.

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