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Friday, September 25, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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West Plains fires 100% contained; Rosalia community collects donations for Malden residents

UPDATED: Mon., Sept. 14, 2020

Shannon Thornton looks into the basement of her burned home on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Malden, Washington, the day after a fast-moving wildfire swept through the town west of Rosalia.  (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Shannon Thornton looks into the basement of her burned home on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Malden, Washington, the day after a fast-moving wildfire swept through the town west of Rosalia. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
By Jim Camden and Chad Sokol The Spokesman-Review

Fire crews have made progress on many of the explosive wildfires that started across Washington last week, while some new blazes continue to crop up.

Ken Johnson, chief of Spokane County Fire District 10, said two destructive fires that started on the West Plains early last week were 100% contained as of Monday evening, and crews were patrolling the burned areas for hot spots.

The Christensen Road fire burned 80 acres north of Fairchild Air Force Base, destroying seven structures and damaging one other, though firefighters managed to save 20 others, Johnson said in a news release.

The Euclid Road fire burned 260 acres northeast of Northern Quest Resort & Casino, destroying six structures. Johnson said the wind-driven blaze “had high potential for severe losses due to apartments and housing developments less than a half-mile in front of the head of the fire.”

Johnson credited numerous other agencies for assisting in the emergency response, including local fire departments, the state Department of Natural Resources and the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

“There was significant potential for loss of lives and extensive property damage,” Johnson said. “It was minimized by having the right preexisting relationships and processes established through mutual respect and trust. The Spokane Regional Emergency Communications (SREC) assisted with acquiring the necessary resources throughout the whole week.”

Meanwhile, fire crews have mostly finished their work in northern Whitman County, where the Babb Road fire decimated the 200-person town of Malden and the neighboring community of Pine City last week.

The Rosalia Lions Club has set up a relief fund for those affected through First Interstate Bank, and donations of food, toiletries, lawn tools, bedding, pet food and more are being collected at the Rosalia Community Center, Rosalia Community Church, Harvest Assembly of God Church and Rosalia Baptist Church.

In North Idaho, crews are still fighting the Bernard fire, which had burned an estimated 660 acres and was 10% contained as of Monday evening, according to the Northern Rockies Incident Command Team. The command team said the fire was human-caused but remained under investigation.

The fire is near Bernard Point, overlooking Echo Bay on the south shore of Lake Pend Oreille, and had not destroyed any structures as of Monday evening, though firefighters were concerned it was threatening Gold Creek Lodge and the Lakeview community.

Wildfire smoke that has obscured views across the region was making it difficult to fly firefighting aircraft over the Bernard Fire.

“Air operations will resume as soon as smoke dissipates enough to allow flying,” the command team said in a news release.

As smoke continued to blanket Washington on Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee took issue with comments about wildfires President Donald Trump made during a visit to California.

Trump said the underlying cause of the catastrophic fires in the West is poor forest management, not climate change as Inslee, other officials in California and Oregon and many scientists contend. Trump said the states should rake leaves and clear dead trees which can dry out and “explode” from the forest floors.

“It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch,” the president said.

On social media, Inslee posted what he called an open letter to Trump, calling his statements in California false and “an abandonment of leadership.”

The president’s comments also show he doesn’t understand the sources and locations of some of the wildfires, Inslee added.

“They don’t just happen in the forests; the fire that burned 80% of the buildings in Malden, Washington, was a grass and brush fire,” Inslee wrote. “These fires could not be prevented by thinning timber because there is no timber to thin.”

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