Two fires that started in strong winds late Tuesday afternoon (June 13) that burned more than 300 acres were under control by the next day, but not before they prompted a warning to people near Okanogan to be ready to evacuate.
The larger of the two fires started on private property on Spring Coulee Road, near the Okanogan County central landfill, at about 5:30 p.m.
Less than an hour after it started, because of the potential for rapid spread in the fierce winds, Okanogan County issued a Level 2 evacuation order (be ready to evacuate), county Emergency Manager Maurice Goodall said. Law enforcement officers went door to door to notify residents. It was reduced to Level 1 (be aware of a fire in the area) at 10:30 p.m. that night.
The fire started on the west side of the road and burned about 200 feet before west winds propelled it across the road, where it burned rapidly up the hillside, topped the crest, and spread north and south, Goodall said.
Fire crews from half a dozen Okanogan County fire districts and from the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) responded to the blaze and built hand lines and bulldozer lines, Goodall said. The fire burned actively throughout the night, with DNR crews on scene to monitor activity.
The wind died down considerably at about 7 p.m., clearing thick smoke and restoring visibility in the Okanogan Valley. While winds picked up again, they remained calmer, allowing firefighters to start gaining control of the fire, Goodall said.
The strongest winds occurred from 5 to 7 p.m., with sustained winds in Omak of 31 miles per hour (mph) and gusts up to 39, according to the National Weather Service in Spokane. Winthrop also clocked high winds at 25 mph, with gusts up to 36.
The fire burned close to one residence, which was well prepared, with no flammable materials near the house. The majority of the land that burned was shrub-steppe. No structures were burned, Goodall said.
The Spring Coulee Fire (also called the Dry Coulee Fire) burned 285 acres in all.
More fires same day
The Loup Loup Canyon Fire (also called the Rock Creek Fire) started that same afternoon near Buzzard Lake on the Loup Loup Highway. There are few residences in the area, but law enforcement notified people camping at Leader Lake, which was not far from the blaze, Goodall said.
The fire burned actively overnight, but remained well within the control lines fire crews had established, Goodall said.
A small fire started near the intersection of Highway 20 and Wolf Creek Road near Mazama when a tree fell on a powerline, snapping the line in half, Okanogan County Fire District 6 Chief Cody Acord said. In those windy conditions, it was fortunate that only the top of the tree caught fire and that it occurred in a sheltered, green area, allowing fire crews to quickly extinguish the fire and keeping it from spreading, he said.
The cause of the Spring Coulee and Loup Loup Canyon fires is under investigation, although there were reports of a snag falling on a powerline near the Loup Loup Canyon Fire, Goodall said.
Burn ban in effect
A ban on all outdoor burning (other than recreational fires in a concrete, rock or steel ring) countywide went into effect on Thursday (June 15).
People should focus on prevention by creating a green, defensible space around their homes. If you have a campfire, douse it with water and make sure it is out and cool to the touch. Be conscious about risks from welding and grinding equipment, Goodall said.
If you report a fire, take time to get accurate information about the location so that emergency crews can locate it quickly, Goodall said.
“People need to be cautious. We’re in June. If those fires had happened in July or August, we would have had a totally different outcome,” Goodall said.