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Memories remain for Firestorm '91 firefighters on 30th anniversary

This Saturday marks the 30th anniversary of the firestorm that devastated Eastern Washington.

SPOKANE, Wash. — On October 16, 1991, a devastating firestorm ripped through Eastern Washington, leaving 114 homes burned, 35,000 acres of land smoldered and two people dead.

Now, 30 years later, the effect of Firestorm ’91 is still being felt in the Inland Northwest.

This Saturday marks the 30th anniversary of the firestorm, where nearly 100 wind-driven wildfires decimated a large portion of Eastern Washington.

At the time of the event, the Spokane area had gone 42 days without rain. Power lines knocked down by overwhelming winds sparked dozens of fires, leading to every firefighting resource in the Spokane area to be called into service.

For Spokane Valley Department Battalion Chief Ken Capaul and retired Spokane Fire Chief Bobby Williams, the memory is still clear as day 30 years later.

“The wind was blowing and it was just one of those blustery days,” Capaul said.  “The houses were burning on the blocks. We’d pick a house that we thought we could save and start flowing water on it.”

“It was a very busy day,” Williams said.

According to Capaul, new firefighting policies emerged after the flames were finally put out. These policies remain in effect to this day.

“After those fires, the building codes changed as well,” Capaul said.

The State Mobilization Act, which was put into effect after the firestorm, allows crews from anywhere in the state of Washington to help on big fires.

“A lot of good came out of that very, very tough day,” Williams said.

Impacts of the event influenced current fire fighting protocols. Spokane Valley Fire Chief Greg Rogers said that monitoring wind levels became a major priority for county firefighters after the firestorm.

"One of the major factors with this particular fire was the wind event," Rogers said. "Some of the other things that I think we've changed is we've changed the way we respond to fires."

Rogers also added that communication protocol between firefighters improved dramatically, mainly through ALERT Spokane, a program that spreads warning and safety messages through the Spokane area.

The fire chief urged residents to get ALERT Spokane, as he is certain that an event like this will happen again.

"We guarantee it," Rogers said. "There's no doubt."

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