Lightning strikes kick off fires on Colville Reservation


Last updated 7/13/2021 at 5:03pm

The largest of the fires, near Nespelem, has consumed over 10,000 acres by early afternoon Tuesday. - image from the Northwest Fire Interactive Web Map

Five fires sparked by lightening Monday night have consumed more than 10,000 acres on the Colville Reservation, forcing evacuations around Nespelem, killing livestock, and burning seven homes so far, three of which had been occupied.

The Chuweah Creek/Joe Moses fires near Nespelem have burned about 10,000 acres, a Mt. Tolman Fire Center release this afternoon said. It is 0% contained and burning in tall grass, sage brush and timber, driven by wind.

Level 3 evacuations are still in place for residents at Owhi Flats along Cache Creek Road, the town of Nespelem and the Colville Indian Agency.

An evacuation center has been set up at the Lake Roosevelt High School gymnasium in Coulee Dam. Colville Tribal Convalescent Center residents have been evacuated to the Coulee House Motel in Coulee Dam.

The fire took out CenturyLink equipment, leaving the town, the agency, Tribal Police and the Mt. Tolman Fire Center, itself, without phone service.

The release said that several livestock, horses and wildlife had been killed by the fire or were severely injured and had to be put down.

The fire started about 7:15 Monday night when a thunderstorm rolled over the land, lightening striking the earth about 60 times.

A reconnaissance flight took place early Tuesday to search for new fires and determine the storm's path, the release said. Answers will inform an air attack on fires that exist now and those that could still appear.

So far, Mt. Tolman's own crews, along with firefighters from every local department, have been been fighting the fires, and state Dept. of Natural Resources firefighters got "boots on the ground" Tuesday morning release said. A Type 2 Incident Management Team is expected to arrive by 8 p.m. for a briefing with local agencies at the Keller Community Center, where an incident command post has been established.

Resources on the fire include three dozers, a Type-2 hand crew, 11 Type-6 fire engines, and two water tenders.

A Facebook post by Grand Coulee Dam area firefighters at about 1 a.m. Tuesday said local departments were all helping and standing by with more resources if needed.

In addition to the fires near Nespelem, the Keno Fire northeast of Keller is "completely lined" at 25-30 acres.

In the Inchelium District, the Wells/Gold Mountain Fire (renamed from Frosty Meadows/Friedlander Fire) has burned half and acre and is within containment lines with one Type-6 fire engine on it.

The Summit Trail Fire is 10-15 acres and burning toward a previous burn scar where the Bridge Creek Fire took place within September 2020's Inchelium Complex that burned 18,940 acres.

Current road closures include Buffalo Lake Road at the Colville Indian Agency to the Buffalo Lake Access Road. SR-155 is open.

The National Weather Service in Spokane has issued a red flag warning for wind and low humidity until 11 p.m. Thursday, with winds expected out of the southwest from 10 to 15 mph and gusts up to 25. Relative humidity is expected between 7 and 14 percent Thursday, making it easier for fuels to catch fire.


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