UNITED STATES NEWS

1 dead, 185 structures destroyed in eastern Washington wildfire

Aug 19, 2023, 11:35 AM | Updated: 5:04 pm

MEDICAL LAKE, Wash. (AP) — A wind-driven wildfire in eastern Washington state has destroyed at least 185 structures, closed a major highway and left one person dead, authorities said Saturday.

The blaze began shortly after midday Friday on the west side of Medical Lake, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) west of Spokane, and then expanded, Washington State Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Isabelle Hoygaard said.

It grew to nearly 15 square miles (38 square kilometers) by Saturday morning, with zero containment. That remained the case Saturday evening. Officials didn’t expect to have new size estimates until Sunday morning, she said.

The burned structures were a mix of homes and outbuildings.

Evacuations were ordered for the town as winds blew the flames southward, Hoygaard said. The evacuations were extended Saturday evening southeast to the town of Tyler, she said.

Among those evacuated were the parents of Spokane City Councilman Zack Zappone.

“They were driving into Spokane when they got alerts on their phone that there were Level 2 and then 2 evacuations at their house,” Zappone told The Associated Press in a phone interview Saturday. “They went back to get their dogs. My stepmom said it was a giant cloud of smoke and darkness. Embers were falling from the sky. She was having trouble breathing.”

The fire swept through the neighborhood soon after they left, destroying his parents’ home and his uncle’s home, just two houses away. Zappone said his parents had lived there since 2003 and had just paid it off last year.

“It’s shocking,” Zappone said. “I’m just in disbelief.”

The blaze burned through the south side of the town and then jumped Interstate 90 on Friday night, forcing its closure, Hoygaard said. The major east-west thoroughfare remained closed in both directions Saturday evening.

“The fire is burning on both sides of the highway,” the Washington state Department of Transportation said on its webpage.

There was one confirmed fatality associated with the fire, Hoygaard said. Further details were not immediately released.

Staff, patients and residents at Eastern State Hospital, one of the state’s two psychiatric facilities, and those living at the Lakeland Village Residential Habilitation Center, both in Medical Lake, were sheltering in place Saturday, said Norah West, a spokesman for the Department of Social and Health Services.

Evacuees from the town were given shelter at a high school overnight.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

“My thoughts are with the … residents who have been ordered to evacuate as the Gray Fire grows,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said on X, formally known as Twitter. “I’m also praying for the safety of the first responders working to contain the fire. May you all remain safe and out of harm’s way.”

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1 dead, 185 structures destroyed in eastern Washington wildfire