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Pearl Hill fire burns into Bridgeport

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 8, 2020

Janet Conklin, Mayor of Bridgeport looks at what once was her husband’s grandfather’s Model A Ford after the Pearl Hill Fire destroyed it and narrowly missed taking her home as well Monday as seen on Tuesday, September 8, 2020, near Bridgeport, Wash. .  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Janet Conklin, Mayor of Bridgeport looks at what once was her husband’s grandfather’s Model A Ford after the Pearl Hill Fire destroyed it and narrowly missed taking her home as well Monday as seen on Tuesday, September 8, 2020, near Bridgeport, Wash. . (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

BRIDGEPORT, Wash. – About 20 homes were lost Monday night as wildfire nearly surrounded the town of Bridgeport, said Mayor Janet Conklin.

Conklin’s home sits at the far edge of town, across from Conklin’s boat launch, named after her husband’s father.

The Conklins have lived in Bridgeport for decades, but Janet’s husband Ed said he had never seen a fire like the Pearl Hill that nearly took out their home.

“There has been nothing like this. This is a first,” Ed said. “We’ve seen fires that came across the reservation, we’ve see fires that have jumped the Columbia (River) and got into Douglas County but we’ve never seen this maneuver.”

As the couple watched the fire burn, they kept thinking it wouldn’t come near their home. The fire started up near Omak then moved down to the Columbia River where it jumped at Brant’s Landing, Ed said. Then the fire burned up in the hills above Bridgeport before eventually dropping down to the Conklin’s home and the town.

“I was very optimistic, saying ‘it can’t do that,’” Ed said. “And it did.”

While Janet encouraged many of the residents to leave due to the Level 3 evacuation in place and encroaching fire, she was determined to stick it out.

“The wind was just changing,” Janet said. “You never knew which way it was going to go.”

As the fire descended down the hill behind their home, the couple were able to get out with their RV in tow and head down to the marina on the river. They could barely see through the thick smoke and dust enough to drive away at about 8:30 p.m.

Three hours later and the immediate danger had passed, so the Conklins drove back up to see if their home was still standing.

“I was shocked because I saw it burning. The fire was right on it,” Janet said. “There was no way it could be saved.”

But the home with its’ green lawn was still standing.

“We were blessed,” Janet said.

While the couple’s home didn’t burn thanks to a crew of fire fighters out of Walla Walla and some fire wise landscaping, they did lose a shed, equipment, and classic cars including, their 1929 Ford Model A.

The Model A was originally purchased by Ed’s father from a dealership in Bridgeport.

“It’s lived its whole life here in Bridgeport and I would say it passed away last night,” Ed said.

Despite their loss, Janet said she knows it’s nothing compared to the people who lost their homes. Many people with homes or ranches out of town lost outbuildings, crops, and livestock, Janet said. She said she is just thankful the entire town didn’t catch fire. It will take a few days to figure out the scope of the damage with many people still evacuated, she added.

“The town really lucked out,” Janet said.

On Tuesday, a few people were out in town cleaning up or trying to pick up supplies with fire crews still working on both ends of the town that is home to less than 3,000 people. Power and water were still out as of Tuesday afternoon.

As mayor, Conklin has been talking with the public utility district, who said they hope to have power, water, and sewer up and working by the end of the day Tuesday.

“You don’t realize how bad it can get until you live through it,” Janet said. “So, it’s a lesson to take it a little bit more seriously.”

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