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

August wildfires in Medical Lake, northern Spokane County dominated The Spokesman-Review’s online readership in 2023

Firefighters and a law enforcement officer help evacuate an elderly man into the bed of the officer’s truck as winds fan the flames of a wildfire encroaching on the man’s home on Aug. 18 in Medical Lake.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
From staff reports

From staff reports

Looking back over the past 12 months, there were enough headlines to fill a certain Billy Joel song, but there’s one particular word from that 1989 track that Spokesman-Review website visitors read the most about in 2023: fire.

Out of the top 30 stories read online, nine were about either the Gray or Oregon Road fires. Some of the other top stories that gained people’s attention this last year included an expansion at Silverwood, the retirement of a Spokane TV weather anchor, the death of a Cheney High School student and a profile of one of the most iconic sandwich shops in the Inland Northwest.

Here’s a look back at some of those stories that grabbed your attention over the past year.

No. 1: Medical Lake and surrounding area ordered to evacuate as large fire spreads

On Aug. 18, as the Gray Fire grew in intensity, chewing up acres and elevating evacuations across entire neighborhoods of Medical Lake, our reporters and photographers fanned out across the area to cover the fire. To help keep track of everything in near real-time, this article was a running blog that we updated minute by minute as information came in from our staffers near the fire lines.

No. 2: With 9,500 acres burned and 185 structures gone, Medical Lake residents reel at the destruction of the Gray FireAug. 19, the day after the Gray and Oregon Road fires cut a wide swath across the county, officials started counting the costs. In less than a day’s time, the fires had wiped away 18,000 acres of farm fields, forests and homes. Neither fire was anywhere close to containment.

No. 3: Cheney High School student dies after incident during PE classTragedy struck in late April when Cheney High School Brayden Bahme, 16, died at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center after he was severely injured following an accident during physical education class.

No. 4 Spokane County Sheriff’s deputy placed on leave after video surfaces of him bloodying 62-year-old manIn early October, Sheriff John Nowels placed one of his deputies, Clay Hilton, on leave. At first, that wasn’t the case; originally Kevin Hinton, a motorist who pulled over to rest during a long drive, was the one in trouble when Hilton found him in his car at Terrace View Park on Aug. 14. In the aftermath of the rapidly escalating confrontation leading up to his arrest, Hinton was left with eight broken ribs, a punctured lung, severe concussion, shoulder injury and a disfigured lip. His injuries were so extreme, corrections officers at the jail had him taken to the hospital for medical treatment. The pivot point that led to charges against Hinton being dropped and Hilton being placed on leave was the deputy’s body camera, which captured the incident.

No. 5 Canadian mining company reports finding $3 billion gold deposit near RepublicIn American history, much of the westward expansion of the United States was brought about by discoveries of mineral wealth – gold in California and Alaska, silver in North Idaho – but it’s not often, 100 to 150 years later, that a new vein of ore is found. That’s just what happened, though, when a Canadian company announced in early February that it found an estimated $3 billion gold deposit on land it owned near Republic in Ferry County. Early estimates indicate there may be 2 million ounces of gold in the deposit.

No. 6 Silverwood unveils new rides and dining planned for $15 million expansionSilverwood Theme Park continues to expand its water park, with a planned $15 million expansion announced in late August. The Emerald Forest, which will open in 2024 as an addition to its Boulder Beach water park, will cover 4 acres and feature new slides for the younger kids, a food pavilion and “the longest water coaster in the country,” according to Silverwood.

No. 7 New Washington state laws take effect in July. Here are a fewAs you’re reading this, you’re living in a new Washington filled with over 100 new laws that went into effect over the summer. These laws declared everything from an official state dinosaur to charges leveled at drug possession, new protections for children seeking gender-affirming treatment, denser housing allowing construction of more duplex and fourplexes across the state and Sam’s Law, a new anti-hazing law named after WSU freshman Sam Martinez, who died of alcohol poisoning after being hazed while pledging the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity.

No. 8: ‘It was a decision I had to make for my family’: Blake Jensen steps away from weather forecasting at KHQ after a decadeOver the past year, the Inland Northwest has seen several people who came into our households every night leave us. In May 2022, longtime KREM chief meteorologist Tom Sherry retired. Earlier this year, retired KHQ weather forecaster George Maupin – who coined the term “Spokomojo” – died at age 79. So it was a bit of a surprise when Blake Jensen, at age 35, decided to call it a career after a 12-year run at KHQ. “My wife and I have had very different shifts,” Jensen said back in January. “We didn’t have as much quality time as we needed. I needed to make a change to be the best husband and father possible.”

No. 9 Evacuations ordered as new fire breaks out in Elk area

Aug. 18 was an all-around bad day for Spokane County. While the Gray Fire in Medical Lake was consuming neighborhoods, a second fire – later dubbed Oregon Road – was burning out of control in north Spokane County. By the end of the first day, it had scorched 2,000 acres and was threatening nearly three dozen homes. By the time the fire was contained nearly a month later, it had burned more than 10,000 acres, 384 structures – including 126 homes – and resulted in one death.

No. 10 Co-owner of Spokane County marijuana producers among nine indicted in Utah fraud schemeThe Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board confirmed in March that Robert McKinley, 45, a majority owner of two state-licensed Spokane County marijuana producers, had been indicted along with eight others in an alleged $100 million fraud scheme being investigated by federal authorities in Utah. The scheme, first announced in a December 2022 indictment, accused the nine individuals charged with devising a scheme to bilk millions of dollars from customers of “nutraceutical, CBD, and dietary supplement products” through setting up phony companies, websites and making false claims about health benefits of their products.

Honorable mention: ‘It’s never changed since day one’: Monster sandwiches fill Spokane’s appetite for 60 years at Domini’s. Sure, we set out to share the top stories read on our website, but by now you’ve probably worked up an appetite – or at least a thirst for another cup of coffee – so we’re going to end this roundup of stories that dominated our area with a palate cleanse, courtesy of the Domini family. The family’s restaurant legacy dates back to the Stockholm Bar on Howard Street, run by Tom Domini’s dad, Al, and uncle Fred. It competed with another set of Domini brothers who ran the New Deal around the corner. A fire in 1962 at the business next door ended Domini’s tavern, but it reopened the following year as Domini Sandwiches at 703 W. Sprague Ave. Since 1963, the restaurant’s menu has remained as constant as the North Star: bread baked daily and fresh meats sliced on order. “Everybody has a story to tell,” Tom “Tommy” Domini said. “Sometimes people come in and recall their first date here 20 years ago. “You have generations of families that come in. It’s heartwarming. It’s fun. Not a lot of businesses get to see that.”

An earlier mention of this story misstated the relationship of Tom and Fred.