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Firefighters efforts saved many homes

Gains made last night against 11,000-acre, lightning-caused fire


Mike D'Amico

Fire on the hillside came too close to houses in Coulee Dam.

Firefighters will have to be alert against localized erratic winds today as temperatures near the Buffalo Lake Road Wildfire creep near 100 degrees.

With the fire 70-percent contained, officials estimated its size so far at 10,962 acres and the cost to fight it at $450,000.

Dollars well spent, if you are one of those folks whose home did not burn (none did) but came close

“In my opinion, (local firefighters) did a phenomenal job of protecting … hundreds of houses,” said Type II Team Operations Chief Carrie Stevens. “They should be commended for the excellent job they did.”

Stevens, updating members at a Grand Coulee Dam Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday, noted that her incident management team, which had just taken command that morning, arrived Wednesday night as the fire was headed in three different directions and threatening homes.

An update this morning notes that the cause of the fire has been attributed to lightning.

Stevens, who was not involved in that investigation, was asked at the meeting about that possibility, since it has been weeks since the last storm passed through the area. She said it is possible, and she has even seen fires smolder over a winter undetected and come to life in the spring.

Barring major weather changes, the fire’s only real avenue for growth now is at its southeast end, where no fire break can be constructed where steep cliffs fall to Lake Roosevelt near Swawilla Basin.

Operations to contain it today have been successful with the help of aircraft, on loan from other jurisdictions, that scoop water from the lake dump on the flames.

Mike D'Amico

A firefighter backburns brush at the edge of the town of Coulee Dam as a defense against the oncoming wildfire.

“If they had not been available for use by this incident or diverted to new starts, this fire would have grown substantially and become established in heavier fuels,” a report states. Forests of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation are just east of the containment lines.

Stevens estimated 200-250 firefighters had been involved before Thursday, including those from all local fire departments, Colville Confederated Tribes, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Washington Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Today, firefighters continue to complete burnout operations in southeast area of the fire to tie in to Lake Roosevelt and hold existing lines and maintain structural protection.

They will also continue to patrol and mop up Coulee Dam and Elmer City.

A blockade of SR 155 was lifted Thursday at 2 p.m. Buffalo Lake Road and Peter Dan Road are still closed.

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