Three wildfires broke out Wednesday along U.S. Highway 195 south of Spokane, forcing immediate evacuations and closing down the highway before firefighters were able to stop the spread of the blazes and partially reopen the road.
A large plume of smoke could be seen from different outposts across Spokane as the fire broke out in the early afternoon, with orders to immediately evacuate interrupting television broadcasts as the flames quickly spread.
Crews were able to stop the fires’ spread before they could reach homes. Evacuation levels were lowered to Level 2 Wednesday evening. In a Level 2 evacuation, residents are told to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
“Thank you to all the responders who helped save many homes today! Please keep the area clear, if possible, as firefighters will continue to work through the night!” the county’s Fire District 8 wrote on Facebook.
Spokane County Fire District 3 Chief Cody Rohrbach said at least 10 acres of grass and timber burned, but firefighters worked to control the perimeter of the blaze Wednesday night. The fires were 50% contained, KHQ reported Wednesday night.
“They’re having really good success,” Rohrbach said. “They have stopped the spread.”
Rohrbach said 75 structures were “immediately threatened” Wednesday afternoon, but the fires were a “minimal threat” to those structures by Wednesday night as firefighters gained control of the flames. No structures were burned and the cause of the fire was unknown.
He said firefighters planned to continue to battle the fires overnight, and mop-up efforts would continue the next few days.
Meanwhile, the Washington State Department of Transportation tweeted early Wednesday night that one lane of the highway reopened in each direction.
The American Red Cross set up a shelter at Jefferson Elementary School, 123 E. 37th Ave., on the South Hill, according to the Spokane County Fire District 3 Facebook page.
Animals could stay at the Spokane County Fairgrounds, the Facebook page said.
Rohrbach said earlier in the day extremely hot, dry and windy conditions made fighting the fire challenging. Rohrbach said the fire was moving to the southwest, but firefighters experienced many erratic wind shifts Wednesday afternoon.
Officials initially ordered a Level 3 evacuation – leave immediately – in the area bordered by Excelsior Road on the south, Austin Road on the west, Mullen Hill Road on the north and Hangman Creek to the east, the Washington State Department of Transportation tweeted. The Washington State Patrol and Spokane County Sheriff’s Office issued the evacuation notices.
Fire conditions won’t improve the rest of this week. Temperatures are expected to top 100 degrees in Spokane on Thursday and are forecasted to remain in the upper 90s through the weekend.
S-R reporter James Hanlon contributed to this story.
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