NW thunderstorms complicate fire fighting
By JEFF BARNARD
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Triple-digit heat and lightning have made firefighters’ jobs even more difficult across the Northwest, where two dozen large wildfires are already burning.
Roughly 1,500 lightning strikes started nearly 20 new wildfires by Monday evening in central Oregon, the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center said. Those fires remained small and were being managed by local fire crews, the center said.
Thunderstorms across Oregon, Washington and Idaho were expected through late Tuesday.
On Monday, temperatures hit 107 degrees in the Columbia River Gorge at The Dalles, Oregon. Highs of 103 were reported in Warm Springs, Oregon, with 102 at Kelso in southwest Washington. In Eastern Washington, Davenport, west of Spokane, registered 104 degrees.
Thunderstorms made their way through central and northeast Oregon and into southeast Washington, the National Weather Service said. Lightning was also reported Monday night over large areas of Western Washington and in the Washington Cascades.
Several smaller wildfires were burning in Western Washington.
With hot dry weather raising fire danger to a new high, the Washington Department of Natural Resources banned all outdoor burning on state-protected lands, including campfires and charcoal in campgrounds.
Still, fire officials said progress was being made in most of the wildfires that have been burning across the Northwest for the past month.
In northeastern Washington, more firefighters have arrived at the Devil’s Elbow Fire Complex on the Colville Indian Reservation, fire spokeswoman Karen Ripley said. Crews worked Monday to extend containment lines in advance of the impending thunderstorms. A new fire start in the area was stopped at 30 acres, she said. In all, that fire complex has burned across more than 30 square miles and is just 4 percent contained. Residents of more than 30 homes have been told to leave.
The Carlton Complex in north-central Washington state, which burned across more than 400 square miles and destroyed more than 300 homes since it was ignited by lightning nearly a month ago, was 95 percent contained.
In Oregon, the Rowena fire, which burned one house and nearly 6 square miles of scrub oak and brush on the steep, windy slopes of the Columbia River Gorge, was 68 percent contained. Evacuation notices were lifted for that fire and U.S Highway 30 in the area has reopened.
In Idaho, the Big Cougar fire was 70 percent contained after burning more than 100 square miles in remote country along the Snake River.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s office said the Obama administration has approved federal assistance for Okanogan County and the Colville confederated tribes to help repair or replace public infrastructure lost in this summer’s wildfires.
That assistance is one part of a federal disaster declaration request Inslee made last week. The administration has not yet made a decision on assistance to individuals and households. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials indicate they are still reviewing that portion of the governor’s request.
The assistance approved Monday means FEMA will reimburse Okanogan County and the Colvilles for 75 percent of the costs of eligible expenses related to disaster-damaged facilities such as roads, bridges, and public utilities.
Preliminary estimates show those fires have caused about $35 million in damages.