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Resources Come Slow As Wildfire Ravages Spokane Reservation

The Hart Fire is burning on the Spokane Indian Reservation, approximately 35 miles northwest of Spokane.
The Hart Fire is burning on the Spokane Indian Reservation, approximately 35 miles northwest of Spokane.

An interagency incident management team has taken over the Hart Fire burning on the Spokane Indian Reservation. The wildfire spread rapidly onto tribal land, but response hasn’t kept up with the pace of the blaze. Strong winds spread the fire fast enough to force an initial attack crew to flee.

“I mean the fires were just so intense that they just had to get out of them,” Spokane Tribe Acting Executive Director Monica Tonasket said.

She said the first firefighting crews worked 36 hours straight. Support has mostly come from Indian Country: Colville and Kalispell members are fighting fire. Coeur d’Alene and Muckleshoots are providing supplies.

“Our sister tribes know,” Tonasket said. “I think they have the same type of deep connection with their land and their people.”

State Emergency Management Director Robert Ezelle said the Department of Natural Resources sent 150 firefighters.

“They’re doing everything they can to stop the fire on the reservation,” he said.

“I just haven’t seen that,” Tonasket countered. “I haven’t seen that many people out here.”

According to Tonasket and the tribe’s fire management officer, only 100 firefighters were on the ground by Tuesday evening.

So why the discrepancy?

Tribal land is sovereign, so there are questions about jurisdiction and about who pays the bills.

At the same time, Washington DNR reported more than 550 firefighters responding to two fires on either end of Spokane, roughly 50 miles south. Those fires claimed 12 homes in all -- compared to 13 lost on the reservation.

Copyright 2016 Northwest News Network

Emily Schwing
Emily Schwing comes to the Inland Northwest by way of Alaska, where she covered social and environmental issues with an Arctic spin as well as natural resource development, wildlife management and Alaska Native issues for nearly a decade. Her work has been heard on National Public Radio’s programs like “Morning Edition” and “All things Considered.” She has also filed for Public Radio International’s “The World,” American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” and various programs produced by the BBC and the CBC. She has also filed stories for Scientific American, Al Jazeera America and Arctic Deeply.