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Commander: Fires are not over yet


[UPDATE 5:20 p.m. 9/2]

As of this morning, the closest point between the North Star and Tunk Block fires was on the southern end of the fire. It was about 2.5 miles apart on the south end along the highway 155 corridor. On the north end, near the Aeneas Valley, the fires are about 10 miles apart, said Stan Hinatsu, the lead public information officer for North Star and Tunk Block Fires.

He said the break in weather had allowed crews to build a fireline closer to the actual fire perimeter with the goal of protecting structures and minimizing acres burned.

"In other words, we are working hard to prevent the two fires from merging," he said.

In related news, a Fire Recovery Assistance meeting is scheduled for next Wednesday, Sept. 9 at 6:30 p.m. at Nespelem School, 229 School Loop Road, Nespelem.

A team from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture will be on hand to provide information on programs available for help with livestock, housing and more; what kind of documentation is needed, where to look for assistance and more information, according to Linda McLean, director of the Colville Reservation WSU Extension.

She can be reached at 509-634-2304 or .

Earlier post:

Even though last weekend’s rain and current cooler temperatures had alleviated dry conditions on regional wildfires, we shouldn’t think the fires are going away soon, a new incident commander in charge of fighting the North Star and Tunk Block fires said Monday night.

Skies to the south of the fire have been relatively smoke-free for days. Highway 155 to Omak opened Monday afternoon. Highway 21 remained closed Tuesday night, and light fuels had soaked up moisture. Those fuels are also the kind that dry out again quickly.

In the Nespelem School gym, Ed Lewis was speaking to several dozen people affected by the fires. The school he noted, had “been in the bull’s eye” only days earlier. Its interior still smelled like a campfire.

With 367,000 acres of forest land burned on the Colville Indian Reservation and Okanogan and Ferry county lands just to the north, the incident command has joined the two fires administratively and turned them over to Lewis’ Pacific Northwest Team 3, one of only 17 “Type 1” teams in the nation, and moved the headquarters for fighting them to Omak. The Nespelem Celebration Grounds remains a major camp for firefighters, but resources will also be positioned elsewhere near Republic and possibly Tonasket.

The Tunk Block fire was 30 percent contained; North Star 25 percent. There are 1,549 firefighters on the two fires, which they are working to keep from merging or growing. But that’s not a lot of people to position around more than 150 miles of perimeter, still forcing planners to focus on “point protection,” keeping structures from burning.

Lewis noted that the Wenatchee Complex of 2012 had 3,200 personnel on it. That fire burned 56,000 acres, according fire statistics at the Incident Information System.

Fires across the dry West burning at the same time have stretched national resources amid fire conditions “none of us have typically seen,” he said. “We started this spring with no moisture and it just got worse,” he said.

Lewis said the PNW 3 team is now working on its second 14-day shift without a break and is scheduled to hand command over to some other team Sept. 9.

He said crews have done a good job of building lines to protect Nespelem and they’re tightening dozer lines on the Tunk fire.

“This fire is going to be here for a long time,” he said. “Mother nature will tell us when it’s time to no longer worry about it.”

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