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‘Rogue’ lightning strike near Columbia River likely caused Stayman Flats Fire

July 20, 2022 Updated Wed., July 20, 2022 at 1:20 p.m.

By Emily Thornton The Wenatchee World, Wash.

CHELAN — A single lightning strike likely caused the Stayman Flats Fire that burned about 1,200 acres and was 30% contained south of Chelan as of Wednesday morning.

“It only takes one,” said Rocco Pelatti, meteorologist with the National Weather Service based in Spokane. Pelatti said Wednesday morning that a “rogue” lightning strike was recorded at about 5 a.m. Monday on Stayman Flats Road, and came from the “anvil,” or top, of the cloud.

The fire wasn’t reported until around 2:35 p.m., and was called in as two, officials said. The state Department of Natural Resources listed the cause of the fire Wednesday morning as “lightning/under investigation.”

DNR spokesman Ryan Rodruck said the cause likely would remain that way unless determined otherwise. About 37 homes remained threatened and under Level 1 evacuation orders, he said, with 125 people fighting the fire from land and air.

The focus Wednesday would be fighting on the ground, he said, because the fire remained “calm overnight” and the expected winds did not occur. The lines held and he said firefighters likely would gain a lot of fire containment Wednesday.

The fire was “burning in grass and brush in difficult terrain,” according to a DNR news release Wednesday, and had grown from its 35 acres Monday. No injuries or structure loss was recorded.

A Type 3 Incident Management Team from the DNR took command of the firefighting response at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

“This operational period, crews will engage in direct attack on both flanks of the fire with the goal of securing and increasing containment,” the release stated. “Crews will also cold-trail the edges of the fire perimeter to prevent flare-ups. Multiple aircraft from Washington DNR will be on standby as needed by crews on the ground.”

People were advised to stay clear of aircraft in Lake Chelan and/or the Columbia River that are getting water to fight the fire.

Fire crews have included six fixed-wing aircraft, two tanker planes and three helicopters battling the fire from the air, as well as multiple local fire agencies.

The sloped terrain and extra grass, due to non-drought conditions, were perfect conditions for a fire, said Pelatti.

When lightning from up high in a cloud occurs, he said, there’s usually very little rain and the storm is moving more quickly than when there is rain.

“It’s what kills a lot of golfers,” he said, “because they think, ‘Oh, I’ll just go another round; it’s not raining yet.’”

That type of lightning occurs often in Eastern Washington, he added, but “generally doesn’t make a lot of headlines.”

“This is just an odd situation,” he said.

There were four lightning strikes recorded in Douglas County and 48 in Okanogan County from the weather system that day, he said.

The Northwest Interagency Coordination Center initially listed lightning as the cause on its website.

“The initial official report from last night indicated the cause was from lightning,” wrote Carol Connolly, with NWCC. “NWCC is required to use the official status report.”

She added the cause would be updated to “undetermined.”

“This is somewhat normal for the first operational period of any fire. The first firefighters on the ground may report a cause and then a fire investigator would be assigned to either agree or determine the cause. In this case, it is still undetermined and our fire information page at NWCC has been changed.”

For up to the minute evacuation information, visit co.chelan.wa.us/emergency-management/pages/active-emergencies.

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