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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Lightning-sparked wildfire has burned 1,000 acres near Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge

A wildfire in the Pend Oreille County mountains has burned 1,000 acres and remains completely uncontained.

Lightning ignited the Boulder Mountain Fire on Wednesday evening roughly 12 miles northwest of Cusick, near the eastern edge of the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge. The fire is burning on federal, state and private land.

Area residents have been asked to evacuate.

Size estimates for the Boulder Mountain Fire have fluctuated significantly.

On Thursday, firefighters estimated the blaze had grown to 3,000 acres. That number was adjusted to 2,000 acres by Friday morning and 1,000 acres by Friday afternoon.

Don Malone, deputy chief with Spokane Fire District 10, said estimating a fire’s size isn’t always an exact science. Guessing the acreage on Thursday was a challenge because huge amounts of smoke were billowing up from the burn, obstructing firefighters’ views.

“It’s hard to fly the area and get a good indication of what that acreage looks like,” Malone said, noting that skies were clearer Friday. “That’s why it does change.”

The Boulder Mountain fire poses a number of challenges for firefighters.

It’s in a remote and rugged area on the north face of Calispell Peak, between elevations of 5,500 and 6,500 feet.

“The access is very, very difficult,” Malone said.

Eighty firefighters are battling the blaze, but with limited access they’re mainly restricted to scouting the fire, “shoring up road systems” and “creating additional access points,” according to a Friday morning news release.

In addition to limited access, forest conditions aren’t ideal. The woods are thick. Some logged areas remain covered in woody slash. Many trees are fairly unhealthy and infested with beetles.

Weather conditions are working against firefighters, too. A red flag warning is in effect until 9 p.m. Saturday. Winds are projected to head up-slope and cause the fire to burn unpredictably. A hot and dry weekend is in the forecast.

The Washington State Department of Ecology has issued an air quality alert for Eastern Washington due to wildfire smoke that could reach unhealthy levels. The alert remains in effect until 8 a.m. Sunday.

Malone asked the public to stay away from the fire and encouraged people to check the Colville National Forest and Department of Natural Resources websites for current campground closure information.

Evacuation updates can be found on Pend Oreille County’s website.