FERRY COUNTY, Wash. — A fire on the Colville Reservation has burned nearly 45,000 acres in more than a week.
Lightning likely sparked the Williams Flats Fire on Aug. 2 after an early morning thunderstorm. It is burning within the Hellgate Game Preserve on the Colville Indian Reservation, about seven miles southeast of Keller, Washington.
At last check, the fire is 85 percent contained.
The Northwest Interagency Incident Management Team said large amounts of rain and flash flooding over the weekend created hazardous conditions and washed out many roads in the area, leaving them impassable.
This poses a new challenge for firefighters and those working to move heavy equipment out of the area.
A spokesperson for NIIMT said one two inches of rain in the fire area alone "turned the ground into slop" and left water flowing down ditches.
The 64 firefighters caught behind the flash flood area on Saturday night were safely returned home on Sunday.
Spokane Tribal Police have provided a rescue boat for emergency evacuation of injured firefighters.
Local heavy rains in Ferry and Okanogan counties prompted a Flash Flood Watch in those counties from 2 p.m. through the late evening Saturday.
The west and southwest flanks of the fire are secure, according to NIIMT. Resources are being moved from this side of the fire to be utilized on other locations.
Leaders say the team that worked to deal with flash flooding emergencies over the weekend is beginning to demobilize. It went from more than 1,200 people to 900.
Night crews also went home on Sunday night.
Evacuations remain in place
Level 1 evacuations remain in place for areas south of Four Corners, and on or near the shore of Lake Roosevelt along the Ninemile-Hellgate Road.
This means residents should be ready for a potential evacuation.
Kuehne Road is not under any evacuation orders, but access is restricted to residents and landowners due to heavy fire traffic in the area.
Traffic control points have been established at:
- The junction of Silver Creek Road and Ninemile-Hellgate Road, also known as the “Four Corners”
- The junction of Olds Creek Road and the Ninemile-Frosty Meadows Road
- The junction of Silver Creek Road and Kuehne Road
Only residents will be allowed through the control points to their homes within the affected areas. If the fire approaches Silver Creek Road, or if smoke restricts visibility to the point that firefighters are at risk, only fire and emergency vehicles will be allowed through these points.
Helicopters may be dipping from Lake Roosevelt for fire suppression efforts, so the public is asked to avoid aircraft activity on the water.
Drone temporarily suspends firefighting efforts
Crews had to suspend operations due to an unauthorized drone flying through the Temporary Flight Restriction area on Tuesday.
Incident Commander Doug Johnson said Tuesday night that a drone entered the TFR designated area surrounding the fire.
The drone caused all firefighting aircraft, including helicopters and large retardant planes, to suspend operations and return to the airport. The suspension continued until a crews verified the drone left the area.
During that time, no aerial support was provided to the firefighters on the ground, and the fire was allowed to burn unchecked. Any person identified flying a drone or unmanned aircraft system in a TFR could be subject to a $20,000 fine.
"Remember, 'If you fly, we can't,'" Johnson said.