Forecasters on Tuesday issued a red flag warning for the coming days in the Spokane area as several fires already threatened homes and prompted evacuations in the region.
As fires burned near Cheney, Wenatchee and Springdale, meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Spokane cautioned dry lightning and high temperatures this weekend would contribute to fire risk.
With signs of dry lightning expected to start Wednesday morning, National Weather Service meteorologist Steven Van Horn said the service wanted to warn people about the risk of critical fires.
“All that really means is we’re not expecting a lot of precipitation to come with the thunderstorms,” Van Horn said.
Usually, rain that falls in the same place as a lightning strike will reduce the risk of fire, Van Horn said.
However, after meteorologists watched the weather patterns of the last few days, they expected these thunderstorms would move quickly and without much rain to follow, Van Horn said. This added to the risk that a lightning strike would set off another blaze, he said.
“It will be very interesting to see how many fires start after the lightning rolls through tomorrow,” Van Horn said Tuesday.
Other weather patterns also add to the red flag warning, Van Horn said. The region is moving into its driest time of the year, he said, and meteorologists expect temperatures to rise again over the weekend. With winds also expected to pick up, Van Horn said, these conditions create a melting pot of fire risk.
Spokane is also on track to break a weather record, Van Horn said. As of Tuesday, there have been 13 days in a row that exceeded 90 degrees; the record is 15.
Also in response to the hazardous weather on Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee declared the wildfire risk a statewide emergency and issued a ban on most outdoor burning until Sept. 30, according to a news release.
“We don’t want a repeat of recent years with dangerous wildfires across the state that have destroyed towns, killed livestock and resulted in weeks of unhealthy air quality,” Inslee said. “I urge everyone to do their part to help protect our beautiful state and all our communities.”
The declaration came after the Andrus Fire near Cheney prompted Level 3 evacuations in some areas as it grew to 250 acres with about 20% containment Tuesday evening, according to Don Malone, public information officer from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.
Another fire on Batterman Road near Wenatchee grew to 7,900 acres and was 10% contained as of 4 p.m. Tuesday.
“It has still been growing, especially on the north side near Rock Island and the Beaver Creek drainage,” said Heather Appelhof, a spokesperson for the Northwest Incident Management Team No. 12.
Crews worked westward with aircraft to battle the flames, Appelhof said.
Responders will reassess the evacuation levels for Batterman Road, though they were expected to hold until Wednesday, she said. Appelhof said the fire started near Batterman Road but is no longer a major threat there.
Another blaze, the Webb Fire, sparked near Springdale and held steady at 30 acres as of 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, and authorities lifted all evacuation notices at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
According to the Stevens County Fire District No. 1 Facebook page, the state Department of Natural Resources expected to continue to respond to the fire overnight and Wednesday. All air resources except for helicopters were released.
Authorities started to investigate the cause of the blaze as “suspicious,” according to the fire district.
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