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Family vacation ends in inferno

 

Two people on a path lined in black trees inspect the damage Monday afternoon at Fireman's Cove, where several structures had burned on the south side of the river. - Wade Taylor photo

At the end of a week of vacation on the lake, Wade Taylor and his family were getting ready to head back home to Grand Coulee when they saw smoke in the sky from an origin too nearby.

"That's pretty darn close," Taylor thought as he was helping his cousin launch a boat on the Spokane River arm of Lake Roosevelt.

The fire would eventually take about 80 percent of their 80 acres of half-timbered property perched above the lake near Cayuse Cove, consuming a barn, trees and more, and burning right to the edge of a short patch of green grass in front of a row of small trailers.

His family property is perched on a ridge about a half mile above the lake and a few miles from where the Hart Fire started last weekend, then blew up on Sunday in conditions the National Weather Service had been warning would quickly spread fire starts.

Cousins, uncles and their families prepared to get out. They set sprinklers near the trailers and moved two of their four-wheel vehicles down the hill to the beach, close to the water.

"By that time it was like, we better get the hell out of here," Taylor said.

Some left by road, but just got out before that exit was cut off by the advancing fire, Taylor said Tuesday. He and his family got on their pontoon boat to take shelter on the water and saw it jump the river onto the Spokane Indian Reservation, burning houses and cabins along the river.

"It was pretty wild," he said.

As they headed up the river, ahead of the fire, Taylor said his cousin, Mike Thompson, picked up five people stranded on the beach.

"It just moved so fast, and once it got on the rez side, it was gone," Taylor said.

Caden Cecil, left, and her brother, Dakota, watch Sunday from the boat as the fire reaches Cayuse Cove just below the property they left to escape the blaze. - Carmen Cecil photo

When the fire reached their barn, which held another all-terrain vehicle and fuel, "it was huge," Taylor said. Trees ignited in "fire bursts" as they watched, and "you had glows on both sides of the river."

The family spent the night on the boat in Mocassin Bay. By 6 a.m. the landscape was just smoldering. Their property was blackened.

Taylor said they had set out to make a memorable vacation for their kids, ages 9 and 11.

"The kids got something to remember," he said.

But he spent Tuesday morning analyzing their insurance needs.

The Hart Fire had reportedly burned about 4,200 acres by Tuesday night, was 10 percent contained, and the entire area is under a Level II evacuation notice, meaning people should be ready to leave immediately.

North of the river, the fire is under management now as the Cayuse Mountain Fire, which has reportedly burned 12,700 acres and 13 homes so far. It is 30 percent contained.

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