A wildfire near Nespelem in Okanogan County burned over 10,000 acres and 7 homes after lightning sparked the fire Monday night.
The entire town of Nespelem was evacuated safely and no lives were lost, said Colville Tribal Chairman Andrew “Badger” Joseph Jr. Seven homes burned however only three of them were occupied at the time of the fire, the other four were vacant.
“It was really crazy last night,” Joseph said.
The initial two fires near Nespelem, both caused by lightning, according to information from the Colville Tribes, Department of Natural Resource, and Mt. Tolman Fire Center but that number grew to six by Tuesday afternoon.
The Chuweah Creek Fire, the largest of the fires, was reported at about 7:15 p.m. southeast of Nespelem. The wind driven fire, fueled by tall grass, sagebrush, and timber quickly burnt over 10,000 acres as it progress toward the town of Nespelem and the Colville Indian Agency, according to the news release. The fire is combined with the Joe Moses fire that was reported at about the same time.
Several homes and outbuildings along with tribal facilities were threatened by the flames as of midnight Monday. Level three evacuations, meaning danger is imminent, were issued for residents at Owhi Flats along Cache Creek Road, the town of Nespelem and Colville Indian Agency.
Level two evacuations are in place along Joe Moses Road, meaning residents should be ready to leave quickly and Level one evacuations are in place for residents at Buffalo Lake and McGinnis Lake.
“Police and people were coming by the houses asking people to get up and go,” Joseph said. “They can’t make you do that but a lot of people evacuated- our convalescent seniors, our nursing home, was evacuated.”
Seven outbuildings were also lost but that number likely has grown, Joseph said.
“There might be more now a while ago we saw a big black plume of smoke go up so that kind of says it might be a building or vehicle,” Joseph said.
Livestock were also lost in the fire and some were severely injured and had to be euthanized. CenturyLink telephone equipment in the area was also damaged causing a telephone outage for the town of Nespelem and the Colville Indian Agency.
Low humidity combined with breezy winds forecast for Wednesday and Thursday will likely increase fire potential and spread in the area.
, according to the national Weather Service Spokane. A fire weather watch was issued Tuesday morning for Wednesday and Thursday.
“With limited resources if the wind picks up there’s a lot of timber in them areas that we’re worried about,” Joseph said. “I’ve just got to thank our firefighters so much for being able to protect what they did in the town of Nespelem.”
An archaeological site was threatened by the fires late last night and Joseph had yet to receive a report as of 2 p.m. on if they were able to save the site.
At the Colville Indian Agency headquarters, Joseph said things were “pretty safe” Tuesday afternoon but the smoke that made its way into the building was making it hard to breathe.
Due to low visibility air resources have been unable to aid fire crews on the ground and the fire remains uncontained, Joseph said. Department of Natural Resources fire crews arrived Tuesday morning and an incident management team was expected to arrive late Tuesday night to set up a command post at the Keller Community Center.
Joseph said he spoke with Governor Jay Inslee Tuesday morning.
“I feel pretty good about him calling me this morning that was really nice of him to do, you know, checking on our people,” Joseph said. “Our reservation is home to a lot of our tribal members but it’s home to a lot of non-tribal members as well. We care about everybody’s home, no matter who they are.”
Evacuees are being sent Red Cross shelter at the Lake Roosevelt High School gym at Coulee Dam and are also being housed at the Coulee House Hotel, Joseph said. Some people have also gone to Omak Stampede Grounds, he added.
The Frosty Meads/ Friedlander Fire is also located in the Inchelium District and burnt about 1.5 acres as of late Monday night. The fire is threatening the Hellgate Game Reserve and archeological sites.
The Summit Trail fire is estimated at 10 to 15 acres buring toward the old Bridge Creek Fire burn scar area. The Keno Fire, northeast of Keller, is estimated at about 30 acres in size with the entire top of the fire contained with a fire line. There is no available information about another fire near Inchelium.
Joseph said he feels lucky their fire crews are so well trained and were able to save the town.
We could not do what we did without them and they put their life on the line,” he said.