Dozens of structures burn in eastern Washington wildfire, as residents flee

By: - August 19, 2023 10:33 am

Wildfires near Spokane have burned over 200 structures and left at least one person dead, authorities said Saturday.

The Gray Fire, at around 8 a.m. Saturday morning, was 0% contained and roughly 9,500 acres, the state Department of Natural Resources said. A department spokesman said Saturday morning the fire had destroyed at least 185 structures. Dry weather and wind complicated efforts to control the fast-moving blaze.

On Friday and overnight into Saturday, Spokane County issued evacuation orders for areas with thousands of residents in and around Medical Lake, Washington, which is about 13 miles southwest of Spokane. Medical Lake itself has about 5,000 residents.

Spokane County Sheriff John Nowels said he drove through parts of Medical Lake on Friday night and described devastated neighborhoods. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my entire life,” he said during televised comments to reporters on Saturday morning. “This has been a terrible event.”

Interstate 90 runs through the area where the fire is burning and a 20-mile stretch of the road was closed as of Saturday morning.

Eastern State Hospital, a 367-bed psychiatric hospital, and Lakeland Village Residential Habilitation Center were both threatened by the fire. On Saturday, at 8:30 a.m., residents and staff at both facilities were “safe and remain sheltered in place,” according to the Department of Social and Health Services.

The Gray Fire started around mid-day on Friday. Its cause is still under investigation.

Meanwhile, the Department of Natural Resources said Saturday morning that 30 structures had burned in the Oregon Road Fire, near Elk, Washington, north of Spokane. That fire was over 3,000 acres on Saturday morning and was threatening about 150 homes, the department also said.

Photos online Saturday of the Medical Lake area showed homes razed by the flames of the Gray Fire. Officials and residents described frantic efforts as people tried to get out of evacuation zones as flames approached.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Bill Lucia
Bill Lucia

Bill Lucia is the Standard’s editor-in-chief. He’s covered state and local policy and politics for a decade, nationwide for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and in Seattle for Crosscut.