Crews battle pair of wild fires Saturday
Almost 400 combined acres charred near Fishtrap Lake, south of Turnbull
By JOHN McCALLUM
A pair of wild land fires occupied southwest Spokane County emergency officials last Saturday, both igniting at about the same time but miles apart.
Around 3 p.m. a fire broke out about two miles west of Fishtrap Road and the Sprague Highway, forcing the evacuation of Fishtrap Lake Resort nearby. According to a report from KREM-TV about 60 people were forced to leave the resort.
Lincoln County Fire District 1 Fire Chief Scott Clemenson said close to 300 acres were scorched near Fishtrap, virtually about one mile south of Interstate 90. The fire was mostly in mixed grasses, brush and some timber, but one structure was threatened and eventually saved.
Clemenson said units from Whitman County, Lincoln County, the Department of Natural Resources and Spokane County Fire District 3 were onsite battling the blaze, along with one attacks from a helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft. It was the fifth fire in that vicinity this summer.
“It's been a little bit of a crazy fire season in that area,” Clemenson said.
The second fire erupted about the same time near Luke Road, south of the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge and forced the closure of a segment of Cheney-Plaza Road. According to a press release from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the fire started on private land and spread quickly northeast onto the refuge.
Spokane County Fire District 3 Chief Bruce Holloway said the Cheney-based district had crews onsite at both fires, but had initial attack responsibility on the Luke Road fire until it burned onto federal land, at which point the management responsibility fell to the Department of Natural Resources. Windy conditions Saturday made firefighting efforts dicey until enough resources arrived and were put into position, both on the ground and in the air.
“It went from 30 to 70 (acres) in a heartbeat almost,” Holloway said.
Overall the district deployed 10 attack engines, five tenders, 11 mutual aid attack (brush) engines and one mutual aid tender manned by 30-35 firefighters on the Luke Road fire. Holloway said a call did go out requesting an attack bulldozer, but that was recalled.
According to a DNR news release the Luke Road fire consumed less than 100 acres and was essentially contained by Saturday night, with additional firefighting resources arriving late and helping fire lines ahead of expected windy conditions Sunday. The fire did not grow in size on Sunday.
“We were greatly concerned as the fire was rapidly spreading on Saturday,” Fish and Wildlife assistant zone fire management officer Doug Fredricks said in the release. “But now that it has been stopped, we can see positive effects. The refuge sits in a fire ecosystem and in the long run the Luke Road fire has helped us maintain the ecosystem that has been here for thousands of years.”
Clemenson said a small fire flared up near Fishtrap Monday, but was contained to about an acre. Crews were still onsite Monday night mopping up at the larger fire.
While the cause of the Luke Road fire was unknown at press time, Clemenson said the Fishtrap blaze was caused by people target shooting in the area, something that didn't cease as winds whipped flames and smoke around.
“We even had to ask people to stop shooting while we were fighting the fire,” Clemenson said.
Despite some cooling temperatures and the approach of fall, Clemenson said the area is still tinder dry, and asked that people be cautious of this fact, especially while hunting.
“Be careful where you aim at,” he added. “It only takes a spark.”
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.