Wildfire burns 5K acres, 5 buildings near Omak

Author: Ian Cull, KXLY4 Multimedia Journalist, ianc@kxly.com
Published On: Oct 03 2012 06:40:36 AM PDT   Updated On: Oct 03 2012 06:56:14 PM PDT
Hwy 155 fire near Omak
OMAK, Wash. -

A wildfire fanned by gusty winds has burned 5,000 acres and several buildings on the Colville Reservation east of Omak in north central Washington.

Mount Tolman Fire Center public information officer Kathy Moses said the buildings -- two homes and three other structures -- burned overnight and the fire, which started late Tuesday afternoon, spread to 5,000 acres. By Wednesday evening 5,500 acres were burned and five additional structures were destroyed.

A dozen homes are under a Level 1 evacuation notice Wednesday afternoon. Norma Sanchez is one of those individuals who was forced to evacuate Tuesday night, driving away from her home on a dead end street, watching two of her neighbors' homes burn to the ground. Her husband is still at their home trying to save it.

"Phone lines were all burned down so he had to come to town and he just said the fire was crazy. He was amazed how fast. He said the trees were blowing up and dropping debris and fire on our house and deck," Sanchez said.

Firefighters say the wind is causing the most problems for them, spreading the fire from 1,000 acres Tuesday night to 5,000 acres Wednesday morning with no sign of letting up.

"We're having winds ranging from 25 to 35 miles per hour," Kathy Moses said.

Moses added that the fire burned an outbuilding near the historic St. Mary's Mission and has burned close to the Paschal Sherman Indian School. The school, which has about 300 students, evacuated boarding students and classes were canceled for the rest of the week due to poor air quality levels.

The students evacuated from the school were bused out just as more roads in the area were closed.

"It's heading toward Highway 155. We have road closures along Columbia River Road at Cameron Lake Cutoff Road and at Carter Road," Moses said.

Both the school and mission have dozer lines cut around them to protect the buildings, but to the south of the school and mission are a dozen homes that are threatened by the fire's advance.

Firefighters say while it is good this fire is burning away from the city, it is burning into an area full of brush that could spread to thousands of acres in the coming days. As for Norma Sanchez, she's staying in Omak until a home she hopes is still standing can be returned to.

"We just have to wait until we hear something," she said.

The fire is at zero-percent containment.