Wildfires prompt mandatory evacuation of town of Nespelem

July 13, 2021 GMT

NESPELEM, Wash. (AP) — Several wildfires are burning in northcentral Washington state, prompting an evacuation order for the town of Nespelem on the Colville Indian Reservation.

The state Department of Natural Resources said there were power outages in the area and phone lines are down.

Okanogan County Emergency Management said Nespelem, Buffalo Lake, Cache Creek and surrounding areas are under mandatory evacuation notices. State Route 155 is open for people to get out. Officials do not want people to wait for door to door notifications, officials said.

The Northwest Interagency Coordination Center said about 60 lightning strikes were reported on or near the reservation on Monday, sparking five wildfires.

The largest had burned approximately 15.6 square miles (40 square kilometers) in grass, sagebrush and timber and had zero containment.

The fire killed some livestock and wildlife, the center said.

As of Tuesday morning, seven structures, including three homes, were lost. Seven outbuildings were also lost, the center reported.

The fire knocked out telephone service in Nespelem, the Colville Indian Agency and other operations.

An evacuation center is located at the Lake Roosevelt High School gymnasium in Coulee Dam.

Residents of the Colville Tribal Convalescence Center were evacuated to the Coulee House in Coulee Dam, the center said.

The state Department of Ecology reported that the fire was generating thick plumes of smoke that produced unhealthy air quality in the Grand Coulee area.

In other parts of the state, a fire near the town of Asotin grew on Monday and has now burned more than 85 square miles (220 square kilometers). A wildfire north of Yakima has burned about 20 square miles (51 square kilometers).

The North Cascades Highway remains closed west of Winthrop because of a wildfire.

A fire weather watch is in effect for eastern Washington from Wednesday afternoon through Thursday evening, the state said. Gusty winds and low relative humidity will cause fires to spread more easily. A cold front Thursday is expected to increase relative humidity, but winds will still be a concern for fire growth.