The Day After: Fires Continue To Burn In Inland Northwest

Sep 8, 2020

The Bernard fire is burning in the mountains near the southern end of Lake Pend Oreille.
Credit U.S. Forest Service

[This story will be updated throughout the day.]

The high winds from Monday have gone, but wildfires continue to burn in eastern Washington and northern Idaho.

Washington Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz tweeted this morning there are nine major fires burning in the Evergreen State. She says 58 fires have been ignited in the last 24 hours.

She said the high winds hampered firefighting efforts because they kept crews on many of the fires from mounting aerial attacks.

“As we battle these big blazes I urge the public to please help us prevent new fires. We simply do not have the capacity to fight additional large fires as Oregon and California continue to face significant fire situations as well as now, all of Washington state," she said.

The Department of Natural Resources has closed all of the recreation lands it controls in eastern Washington, due to the high fire danger. The closure is scheduled to last until at least Friday. The agency also announced that timber harvests on DNR-managed lands have been shut down at least through Thursday morning. All timber sales and fuel mitigation work on which the state is collaborating on U.S. Forest Service lands using the DNR’s Good Neighbor Authority has also been halted.

“This remains a very volatile and dangerous situation,” Franz said. “Because of the scale of these fires, our state’s resources are fully deployed. We are holding nothing back. But that means we must take every possible precaution to prevent new fires from being started. That’s why we’ve taken action.”

Franz and other lands officials are pleading with people to obey evacuation orders and burn bans. She also urged them to avoid situations where an errant spark or flickering ember might ignite dry grass or brush and start a new fire.

Fire crews in many areas lost one of their major tools on Monday when high winds made the conditions too dangerous for aerial drops of water and retardants.

Most of the highways closed for some or most of Monday have been reopened. New today: a brush fire near U.S. Highway 2, just east of the Telford Rest Area, forced closure of a mile-long stretch of the highway. That's about 10 miles west of Davenport. The roadway reopened around 2 pm.

State Route 97 is still closed from Brewster to the junction with SR 20, about a 20-mile stretch, because of fire.

U.S. 2 remains closed in both directions from milepost 150, just east of Waterville at the junction with SR 172, to milepost 187.5 at the junction with SR 17 due to fire activity.

Most of the attention about wildfires this week has focused on those burning in Washington.

But two fires are burning in northern Idaho. One, a mile or so from the town of Blanchard, has burned about 600 acres and forced the closure of a section of Idaho state highway 41.

The second fire is burning in the backcountry at the south end of Lake Pend Oreille. It started Monday near Echo Bay and Kary Maddox from the Forest Service is monitoring it.

“Yesterday [Monday] afternoon it made a run up the hill with the northerly winds that we got. We had red flag conditions yesterday. It moved very quickly. They put fire bosses on it who attempted to scoop water out of the lake and attempted to drop on the fire. But, due to terrain, winds and visibility issues, they were unable to even drop on the fire," Maddox said.

Fast forward a day and the weather, at least the wind part, has been different and the teams have been able to attack from the air.

The fire has burned about 80 acres. It hasn’t burned any structures and there aren’t any evacuation orders. Maddox says the fire has settled in over the lake today. She says it is the priority fire in the Panhandle right now, so people and equipment are there to keep it from spreading. The containment level is zero percent right now.

Among the fires burning in Washington are the Cold Springs Fire, which has charred 140,000 acres in Okanogan County, and the nearby Pearl Hill fire, which has burned 175,000 acres and is considered by state lands officials to be one big fire complex. The Evans Canyon Fire in Yakima County, which was burning before this week, has charred 75,000 acres. That fire is considered 70% contained.