Nearly 20K acres of sagebrush burned near Grand Coulee

Published On: Sep 10 2012 02:44:38 PM PDT   Updated On: Sep 10 2012 06:25:22 PM PDT
Grand Coulee Dam area brush fire
SPOKANE, Wash. -

Two wildfires, triggered by lightning strikes over the weekend, have burned thousands of acres of scrub brush in the Grand Coulee Dam area within the last 24 hours.

The Barker Canyon fire has burned 15,000 acres of grass and sage in Grant and Douglas counties near Grand Coulee. Three wildland strike teams comprised of 45 personnel manning 15 engines and a trio of water tenders are battling the fire.

The fire is at zero percent containment, and there are localized evacuation orders for up to 30 threatened homes in the fire's path, which is being fanned by wind gusts up to 25 miles an hour from west to southwest.

A second fire, the Leahy Junction Fire, is also burning near Grand Coulee, with 6,000 acres of grass and sage burned as of 10 a.m. Monday. Leahy Junction is zero percent contained.

The firefighting effort at Leahy Junction is sharing both incident management as well as firefighting resources with the Barker Canyon Fire.

Monday afternoon Lettye Hall was about to cross the road block at Highway 174 in Grand Coulee. She planned to see the home she evacuated Sunday night and ensure her horses she moved are still alive.

"Pulled everything out that I could last night. My animals and vehicles. We're told that we're on our own responsibility wise and safety wise on the other side here because we're still at a Level 2," Hall said.

In town people are gathering supplies at local grocery stores while local evacuees are staying in area motels.

"A few customers, probably five or six, coming in last night and they needed to get a room because they needed to evacuate," motel manager Sam Hartney said.

Hartney said customers told him Sunday night they were told to get out of their homes and campsites and they eventually landed here. He expects customers Monday night.

"Probably have more customers coming in because they have to be evacuated. With the wind out there and the way it's blowing it looks like it's blowing more wind this way than it was yesterday," he said.

The Coulee Medical Center has not been evacuated, though hospital officials were told by firefighters Sunday night they were at Level 1, which meant they needed to be aware of the situation and have a plan to evacuate. So far no patients have been moved.

Level 1 evacuation noticed means that people need to have an evacuation plan. Level 2 means people need to be prepared to move as soon as possible. Level 3 means people need to evacuate as soon as possible.

Watching from her front yard in Grand Coulee, Clea Pryor can see smoke from what used to be fires Sunday night.

"The whole hillside there was flaming," she said.

Down her street the city hall had a close call as flames made it all the way into the building's backyard. So far the Barker Canyon Fire has burned close to 15,000 acres and put fire officials on close watch.

"They said it was an evacuation two warning, to get packed and if they came around again it would be like five minutes to leave," Pryor explained.

Several factors are working against firefighters in this area with one being the wind.

"The winds make this fire very dangerous. It makes it dangerous for the home owners and the firefighters out in the field," Douglas County Sheriff Harvey Gjesdal said.

Those wind gusts are driving the fire over rocks down canyons and toward homes.

"It is extremely rugged. The area on the plateau right behind us is a lot of canyons and valleys, very rocky, it's difficult for the firefighters to get to," Sheriff Gjesdal said.

Smoke can be seen billowing for miles causing rolling closures on Highway 174.

Pryor decided to leave home for a while as a precaution and she's glad the fire has stopped short of her doorway.

"It's kinda scary 'cause you don't know what to do. You can grab a few things but you can't unload your house," she said.