Winds Push Destructive Fire Through Washington State

One person is reported killed, 185 structures destroyed
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 20, 2023 11:30 AM CDT
Updated Aug 20, 2023 11:40 AM CDT
Washington State Wildfire Kills 1, Destroys 185 Structures
Spokane County Fire District 3 Chief Cody Rohrbach gives an update on the wildfires on Saturday in Medical Lake, Wash.   (KXLY via 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 west of Spokane, and then expanded, state Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Isabelle Hoygaard said. It grew to nearly 15 square miles by Saturday morning, with zero containment, the AP reports. That remained the case Saturday evening. The burned structures were a mix of homes and outbuildings. The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

Evacuations were ordered for the town as winds blew the flames south, Hoygaard said. The evacuations were extended 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 ... evacuations at their house," Zappone said 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 two houses away. Zappone said his parents had lived there since 2003 and had just paid it off last year.

The blaze burned through the south side of the town, then jumped Interstate 90 on Friday night, forcing its closure, Hoygaard said. The major east-west thoroughfare remained closed in both directions Saturday evening, per the AP. "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; 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, said a spokesman for the Department of Social and Health Services. Evacuees from town were given shelter at a high school overnight.

(More wildfires stories.)

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