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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Until you live through it, you have no idea’: Small town of Lind grieves after fast-moving wildfire levels six homes

LIND, Wash. – Many Lind residents scrambled to evacuate Thursday after a fast-moving wildfire tore through the small town.

Six homes and eight structures were destroyed, Adams County Sheriff Dale Wagner said in a video update on Facebook.

Kevin Starring, fire chief of Adams County Fire District 2, said he was heartbroken about the structures lost.

“I’ve lived here my entire life and never worked through this or been through this, so I’m pretty devastated about that,” Starring said.

The 2,500-acre fire struck south of Lind, a town of 535 people in the middle of Adams County, around 11:45 a.m. Thursday, the state fire marshal’s office said. The cause is under investigation.

Starring said late Thursday afternoon there was no active fire and crews were putting out hot spots.

He said he’s battled large wheat fires and others like it, “but I’ve never been involved where people have lost their homes and lost everything. You read about and see it on TV all the time, but until you live through it, you have no idea.”

Wagner said there were no reports of major injuries besides one firefighter suffering from smoke inhalation who was airlifted to Spokane.

Starring said he was concerned the fire could burn the entire town because of the strong winds and flames that burned higher than fire trucks. The fire started southwest of town and rolled over the hillside on the town’s southern edge. He said firefighters knocked the blaze down a bit and saved some homes.

In other areas, Starring said the fire was “too intense,” and crews had to leave as the flames came right at them. Starring said crews would likely be on scene for two or three days to ensure the fire fueled by warm, dry and windy conditions does not reignite.

“It’s not good, but it could have been a lot worse,” he said.

Megan Shepard’s home was saved.

The fire came within about 20 feet of her driveway before firefighters swooped in and stopped it. She said the wind shifted directions, helping push the fire east, away from her home.

Some of her neighbors weren’t so lucky. Shephard said she spoke with one of them in town after the fire ripped through his property.

“It’s devastating,” she said. “I mean, I’m happy that my home was OK, but I mean, they’re our neighbors.”

Shephard said she and her husband were at work when the fire started, and her son was the only one home.

“It was scary trying to get home in time,” she said. “My husband was like, ‘I don’t know if the house is going to be there when you get there.’ ”

Shephard said she and her family loaded up their dogs, ducks and chickens in case the fire did burn their property.

“I was worried about my animals,” she said. “I was like, ‘I need to get my animals out.’ ”

Lind clerk Barbara Pence said the fire appears to have skirted along the south edge of town to the east. The town was prepared to evacuate and advised residents to leave if they felt unsafe, but the north part of town was never ordered to evacuate, she said.

“We were lucky that it didn’t come into town and take out the entire town,” Pence said. “It is sad that we lost the homes that we did and we feel for the people that are affected. And as a small community, the community will band together and help those families, I’m sure.”

Pence said the City Council will need to meet to determine what the city can do to help residents who lost their homes.

“We feel for the people that have been affected, and we are here to help with what we can,” Pence said.

Lind Mayor Paula Bell said the fire caused the town to lose power, and Avista Utilities was on scene to address the issue. Meanwhile, city crews were working nonstop, she said, to ensure the city’s water wells were running properly.

Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste authorized the mobilization of state firefighting resources, including multiple aircraft and fire agencies from around the region. Local volunteer firefighters also assisted, and Bell said she appreciated the assistance.

“It’s too bad that it’s a disaster that brings people together, but it’s good to have neighbors,” she said.

From her home between Lind’s elementary and middle schools, Heather Reed could see flames on the outskirts of town.

Reed, who owns the Wheat Lind Coffee House, said her shop downtown was safe from the flames.

“I was really more concerned about the people that lost their home and trying to figure out ways to help them,” Reed said.

Like Starring, Reed said she was heartbroken about those who lost their homes.

“You can’t help but feel for them,” she said.

Presnell and Nielson Road roads, 3 miles south of Lind, were blocked due to the fire. U.S. Highway 395 was closed in both directions from Paha-Packard to Cunningham Road but later reopened, the sheriff’s office said.

Bryan Kirkendall, a manager at Jim’s Market, said the store has remained busy during the fire, supplying water, food and emergency supplies. The internet was down, so he could not take card payments but accepted IOUs. The store is also offering free goods to those who lost their homes.

Cheryl Haase, who owns Haase’s Tavern in Lind, and others made and served a variety of hot and cold food and drinks for firefighters at the tavern. Firefighters grabbed sandwiches, salads and other food items throughout the afternoon.

“My goal is to make sure these guys can eat and keep fighting fire,” Haase said.

The Red Cross shelter at Ritzville Grade School was set to be open all night with availability as long as evacuation orders are in place. Volunteers from Spokane were bringing cots.

Teenagers huddled in the corner of the gym as they charged their phones and snacked on small bags of chips given by Red Cross volunteers. A large TV plugged into a laptop, along with board games, was available for evacuees.

“We all want to help, but we don’t always know how,” said Cindy Deska, principal at Ritzville Grade School.

Several families of evacuees arrived at the school with their pets throughout the afternoon. Several crates of cats and small whimpering dogs were placed inside the school’s gymnasium. Many worried about their pets and animals that they were unable to find before leaving Lind.

Dustin Murray said he dropped his two goats off at the Ritzville Fairgrounds and headed to the Red Cross shelter.

“You could see big ash just falling everywhere,” said Murray, who works the graveyard shift at the Lamb Weston potato processing plant in Richland.

Christina Marshall said the fire started near her home. Her family evacuated their five dogs, three cats and chickens.

One of her family members was still in Lind at about 3:30 p.m. assisting with evacuation efforts.

“It was very stressful,” she said. “But we get wildfires around here all the time so we know what to do.”

Dawne Lillard, a paraeducator at Lind Elementary, was outside the shelter with her Boston terrier puppy, Poe, when she spotted some of her students walking up. She hugged them in between tears as she reassured them.

She lost her boyfriend to COVID-19 exactly one year ago, so the fire compounded her stress, she said.

She was at a training program in Ritzville when she heard the news of a fire around 12:30 p.m. She raced back home to pick up her children, their friends and her dog.

“It was a wall of smoke” upon entering, she said.

She wasn’t ready for the sudden evacuation, but she knew what her priorities were.

“The only things important to me are my kids and my dog and myself. I kind of learned that this last year,” said Lillard, who moved to Lind from Snohomish. “Lind is so small, even being here for four years, you have a family.”

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.