Firefighters Brace for Windy Weather in Eastern WA

NESPELEM, Wash. (AP) — A wildfire that destroyed seven homes and led to the evacuation of the town of Nespelem continued to burn in north-central Washington on Wednesday.

Firefighters across eastern Washington braced for the arrival of strong winds on Wednesday that could fan the flames of existing wildfires. The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning in effect for much of eastern Washington beginning Wednesday afternoon and ending on Thursday evening.

The hot, breezy and dry conditions have the potential to expand the wildfires burning around the region, including the fire near Nespelem, two massive fire complexes south of Clarkston, Washington, and a fire near Wenatchee.

The fire burning on the Colville Indian Reservation has grown to 23.4 square miles (60 square kilometers) with zero containment.

The Chuweah Creek fire was ignited by lighting Monday evening in hot, dry conditions, and quickly burned seven homes, four of which were vacant.

The town of Nespelem, which has about 200 residents, was evacuated Monday night and remains under evacuation notice, said Colville Tribal Chairman Andrew “Badger” Joseph Jr.

The first reports of fire came at 7:15 p.m. southeast of Nespelem. Driven by wind and fueled with tall grass, sagebrush and timber, the fire moved toward town and the Colville Indian Agency.

“Police and people were coming by the houses asking people to get up and go,” Joseph told The Spokesman-Review. “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.

The fire killed an unknown number of livestock, and some animals were severely injured and had to be euthanized. Many more are missing.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has authorized the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs for the Chuweah Creek Fire, after deciding it threatened to cause such destruction as to constitute a major disaster.

The fire threatens roads, tribal government buildings, a tribal prison, parks and recreation facilities, farms, utilities, the local watershed, streams and fish spawning sites, as well as locations of cultural significance, FEMA said.

Another brush fire prompted mandatory evacuations in Chelan County on Wednesday. The Red Apple Fire started Tuesday evening and is burning grass and sage between the towns of Cashmere and Wenatchee along US Highway 2.

The fire grew to an estimated 10.9 square miles (28 square kilometers) by Wednesday morning, according to the Washington state Department of Natural Resources.

The fire is threatening 230 homes, orchards and a power substation. Chelan County Emergency Management ordered the mandatory evacuations for the east side of Burch Mountain Road and some other areas.

Firefighters were bracing for an expected cold front late Wednesday that was forecast to bring 25-to-30-mph winds to fires burning near the town of Asotin. Bill Queen, a fire information officer on the Lick Creek Fire, said the change in weather is expected to arrive about 10 p.m. and last through mid-morning Thursday.

Firefighters on the 90-square mile (233 square kilometer) fire that is 20 percent contained have been working for days to widen fire lines. Queen said firefighters hope to hold the west and southwest flanks and keep the fire out of much steeper terrain.

“We are really trying to keep it as small as we can,” Queen told The Lewiston Tribune. “If we are not able to do that, it just becomes that much more difficult to deal with, on a potentially much larger landscape and with the resources we currently have.”

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