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Inslee declares emergency as temperatures bring relief to crews battling wildfires

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 19, 2020

Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statewide emergency proclamation Wednesday to help direct resources to wildfires,  including the Palmer Fire in Okanogan County.  (Steve Ringman/The Associated Press)
Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statewide emergency proclamation Wednesday to help direct resources to wildfires,  including the Palmer Fire in Okanogan County. (Steve Ringman/The Associated Press)

Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statewide emergency proclamation Wednesday to direct resources to wildfires across the state, including the Palmer fire in Okanogan County that could send smoke to Spokane.

While the Badger Lake fire near Cheney largely has been contained, crews on scene enjoyed a temperature drop while they continue working to keep the fire under control.

“It’s not going to be a drastic cooldown. It’s going to knock a couple degrees down,” Steve Bodnar, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Spokane, said Wednesday.

There is potential for breezy winds throughout the rest of the week, Bodnar said.

Gusts of up to 20 mph could hit Spokane and the Columbia Basin on Thursday. For Friday, winds are forecast to be stronger with sustained winds of 20 mph with gusts up to 40 mph.

The Badger Lake fire near Cheney was listed at 55% containment Wednesday afternoon.

The fire was mapped at 244 acres, with the nearby Williams Lake fire mapped at 22 acres, Isabelle Hoygaard with the Department of Natural Resources said.

“We got a good line around it, and then we strengthened the line,” Hoygaard said of containment efforts.

Homeowners in the area were allowed to return Wednesday morning when the evacuation level was lowered.

Some homeowners never left, though. Hoygaard said Tuesday night that some homeowners in a trailer park “surrounded by fire” had refused to leave the area.

Amber Bertram, a resident of the neighborhood, said they didn’t refuse to leave but felt trapped. Her area has no cell service, she said, and landlines were the “first to burn up.”

“We didn’t choose to stay out of stubbornness, and we didn’t straight-up refuse to leave. The reality of it is we didn’t know how bad it was until late Sunday,” Bertram said. “It’s certainly not like the movies where people are running door to door letting residents know or sounding off a blowhorn to alert the area residents.”

By the time residents found out about the fire, which had at one point crept to within 600 feet of their neighborhood, the immediate threat was gone, Bertram said.

Danger remains and a Level 2 evacuation indicates residents should be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. The general public still is not allowed back into the area, but homeowners are free to return to their residences, Hoygaard said.

“There’s still some hot spots of fire on the ground so we don’t want the public in there,” Hoygaard said.

Crews planned to continue to extinguish hot spots on the edge of the Badger Lake Fire on Wednesday and start mopping up the area. Crews were to remain on scene through the night to patrol the fire and monitor the lines with the expectation it will likely be the final night shift on the fire, according a news release from the incident management team.

The Palmer fire has grown rapidly, burning about 5,000 acres of grass, brush and timber near the Canadian border, the DNR said. The fire threatened 86 homes as of Wednesday morning with Level 3, or immediate evacuation orders in place.

Inslee’s emergency order, which remains in effect until Sept. 30, allows the National Guard to join state and local firefighters at wildfires across the state.

“Due to hot, dry conditions and lighting storms, we have fires burning across Washington and existing firefighting resources are at capacity,” Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said in a statement.

As the Palmer fire continues to grow, so does the amount of smoke in the area.

“There is quite a bit of smoke this morning through the Okanogan Valley,” Bodnar said Wednesday.

As the fire continues to grow, westerly winds could move smoke from the area toward Spokane, Bodnar said.

Temperatures Thursday and Friday are forecast to be the mid-80s, Bodnar said. There is a chance of showers in the Cascade Mountains on Friday with a slight chance of thunderstorms in the Spokane area, Bodnar said.

As a new air mass moves in from the Pacific Ocean, Bodnar said the humidity levels will increase Friday, giving the Spokane area a slight break from the extremely dry weather of the past week.

Over the weekend, temperatures are forecast to be in the mid-80s, dropping to about normal temperatures for this time of year on Sunday.

“We’ve peaked and we’re on our way down,” Bodnar said of hot weather during the past week.

Reporter Maggie Quinlan contributed to this report.

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