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Thursday, June 4, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

More than 20 fires erupt, nearly 300 bolts of lightning strike around Spokane County on Tuesday night

UPDATED: Wed., July 24, 2019

Fire crews mop up a structure fire on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, at East Gordon Avenue and North Division Street in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Fire crews mop up a structure fire on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, at East Gordon Avenue and North Division Street in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
By Jonathan Glover and Jared Brown The Spokesman-Review

As thunderstorms rolled up from the Palouse and through Spokane Tuesday night, lightning contributed to more than 20 fires in Spokane County alone, Spokane Fire Department Chief Brian Schaeffer said.

“We had a surge in fires about 45 minutes ago,” Schaeffer said at about 9:40 p.m.

Power outages were reported throughout the Spokane area in the wake of the storms. Avista Utilities reported outages affected more than 21,000 customers at about 11:10 p.m. Inland Power and Light reported more than 2,000 customers without power at that time. Vera Water and Power, Kootenai Electric Cooperative and the Pend Oreille Public Utility District also reported outages.

By 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, Avista still was reporting about 7,200 customers without power. About 400 Inland customers also remained without power.

Northern Lights Inc. based in Sagle, Idaho reported that nearly 6,500 customers lost power in the storm. Electricity to about 3,800 of those was restored by 6:30 a.m.

The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the Spokane area just before 9 p.m. that forecast gusts of wind up to 60 mph. Lightning struck the ground close to 300 times between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Spokane International Airport recorded a gust of 61 mph and Felts Field recorded one at 62 mph, the weather service reported.

Schaeffer said there were reports of lightning causing multiple brush and structure fires, as well as downed power lines causing brush fires.

One structure fire on East Gordon Avenue in north Spokane spread to multiple homes, he said.

KHQ reported that Gordon Avenue near Division Street was closed as firefighters investigated what caused the home to catch fire.

Reports of lightning-caused damage came from around the city.

Ivan Antunez, who lives in an apartment near Oak Street and Second Avenue in Browne’s Addition, said he was outside with his girlfriend when lightning struck a tree, splitting it. When the tree started falling toward them, Antunez said they barely escaped unscathed.

“Immediately the wind started shifting,” Antunez said. “All the sudden I see lightning strikes this tree. … I tuck and roll. It misses one resident’s car just by a hair. It hit at the same time as that other tree. I was just lucky enough to get my girlfriend out of there. I had to tuck and roll.”

Mary Holt and Dawson Matthews, roommates who live nearby on Second, said they saw lightning strike a power pole, which took out a tree and sparked a fire in some nearby bushes.

“This whole thing was on fire,” Matthews said. “The pole was on fire.”

“The flames were coming all across. I didn’t know what to do,” Holt added.

A house in Spokane Valley on Bates Road near 25th Avenue and Bowdish Road was without power after a tree fell and downed a power line at about 9:30 p.m.

These were just a fraction of the many incidents reported in and around Spokane, and Schaeffer estimated crews would be responding to the wave of fires attributed to the storm until about midnight.

According to National Weather Service Meteorologist Matt Fugazzi, the first lightning strike in Spokane County came at about 8:16 p.m., while the first strike in the city occurred at about 8:56 p.m.

Fugazzi said he counted 290 strikes that hit the ground, “with hundreds more in the clouds creating a very vivid lightning show in the region,” he said.

There were also multiple reports of wind gusts up to 60 mph.

KHQ reported that Stevens County fire departments responded to at least 15 lightning-caused fires of an acre or less. One of those fires was a brush fire in the area of Mt. Saint Michaels Road. While the fire was contained by about 10 p.m., the Spokane County Fire District 9 said on Facebook that crews would be working into the night to dig containment lines and mop up.

Continuous lightning strikes forced Northern Quest Resort & Casino to interupt a Chaka Khan and Michael McDonald concert held outdoors and evacuate the area around 8:30 p.m., according to a press release. High winds damaged the stage area and prevented the show from continuing, the release said.

The storm exited the region at about 9:30 p.m., but Fugazzi said one or two more minor thunderstorms with occasional lightning could move through overnight.

The cold front that brought the thunderstorm should make Wednesday’s weather sunny, cool and breezy, Fugazzi said.

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