NORTH COUNTY – Lightning storms, dry grass and fireworks proved too much for the desert landscape to take last week.
More than 350 ground strikes by lightening from Cle Elum to the Canadian border set off dozens of regional fires, including several in the Okanogan and Oroville areas, according to Central Washington Interagency Communications Center
The “Almost” Nine Mile Fire near Oroville was brought under control through the efforts of Oroville, the Department of Natural Resources, Molson/Chesaw and other regional firefighters on July 4. The fire was started by fireworks on rented private land, according to sheriff Frank Rogers. The fire was on Canyon Spur Road. Two helicopters and an aircraft also dropped water and retardant.
Oroville Fire Chief Rod Noel said about six Oroville firefighters were on the scene and two engines. Oroville spent about two hours at the site.
“These guys did an excellent job getting a handle on the fire before it could spread. One house was in danger during the fire, but was not damaged,” said Sheriff Frank Rogers.
The threatened home was that of Janine Donoho, a local biologist.
“As you know, this area thrives on the fast, relatively cool fires that maintain the ecology,” said Donoho. “Lightning strikes give us plenty of options for that and when you choose to live where we do, we accept the consequences and do all we can to minimize our footprint. Stupid human tricks, however, go beyond this.”
Donoho and her husband were upset with the actions of new neighbors, who, she said, had about $300 in fireworks confiscated after the fire.
The Donoho’s kept the firefighters supplied in baked goods, chocolate and tea, she wrote in an email to this newspaper.
“If I simply write about these humans who put their lives on the line here, I start misting up, though,” writes Donoho. “Suffice it to say they were fabulous, well-trained, disciplined and, yes, even compassionate.”
Okanogan also received its share of fires, most of them in lightening strikes during last week’s storms. A fire July 1 south east of Okanogan was started by lightening.
The Jackass Butte Fire burned about 1,500 acres before it was brought under control, Rogers said. One outbuilding was completely destroyed and about 20 acres of wheat burned, but no injuries or other serious property damage was reported, he said. The fire was considered under control by July 3.
Several power poles were scorched on the butte, but the county’s emergency communication system, which is located on the hill, was undamaged.
“The PUD was awesome,” he said. After power went down, PUD employees were there working immediately, even while firefighters continued working against the retreating blaze.
“They were out working in the black, burned area already, even while the firefighters were still going at it,” Rogers said. Power was restored to the area by the next morning.
An Okanogan-area fire also started at Rattlesnake Ridge. It was caused by lightening and reported June 30. It burned about 2,600 acres, joining in some areas with the Jackass Butte blaze, before being contained July 5. About 360 personnel from across the state were mobilized to fight the fire.
The DNR joined local agencies and state mobilization teams on most of these fires, according to DNR representative Jill Jones. Currently all the fires have wound down and are in the mop-up phase, she said.
“It’s pretty quiet now,” Jones said. One remaining fire is on Mt. Tulman in Ferry County.