Firefighters brace for windy weather with Chuweah Creek fire at zero containment

A wildfire that destroyed seven homes and led to the evacuation of the town of Nespelem continued to burn in north-central Washington on Wednesday.

Firefighters across eastern Washington braced for the arrival of strong winds on Wednesday night that could fan the flames of existing wildfires.

A fire burning on the Colville Indian Reservation has grown to 23.4 square miles (60 square kilometers) with zero containment.

The Chuweah Creek fire was ignited by lightning Monday evening in hot, dry conditions, and quickly burned seven homes, four of which were vacant.

The town of Nespelem, which has about 200 residents, was evacuated Monday night and remains under evacuation notice, said Colville Tribal Chairman Andrew "Badger" Joseph Jr.

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The first reports of fire came at 7:15 p.m. southeast of Nespelem. Driven by wind and fueled with tall grass, sagebrush and timber, the fire moved toward town and the Colville Indian Agency.

"Police and people were coming by the houses asking people to get up and go," Joseph told The Spokesman-Review. "They can’t make you do that, but a lot of people evacuated – our convalescent seniors, our nursing home was evacuated."

Seven outbuildings were also lost, but that number likely has grown, Joseph said.

The fire killed an unknown number of livestock, and some animals were severely injured and had to be euthanized. Many more are missing.

Low humidity combined with rising winds forecast for Wednesday and Thursday will likely increase fire potential and spread in the area, according to the National Weather Service in Spokane. A fire weather watch was issued for Wednesday and Thursday.

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Firefighters were bracing for an expected cold front late Wednesday that was forecast to bring 25-to-30-mph winds to fires burning near the town of Asotin. Bill Queen, a fire information officer on the Lick Creek Fire, said the change in weather is expected to arrive about 10 p.m. and last through mid-morning Thursday.

Firefighters on the 90-square mile (233 square kilometer) fire that is 20 percent contained have been working for days to widen fire lines. Queen said firefighters hope to hold the west and southwest flanks and keep the fire out of much steeper terrain.

"We are really trying to keep it as small as we can," Queen told The Lewiston Tribune. "If we are not able to do that, it just becomes that much more difficult to deal with, on a potentially much larger landscape and with the resources we currently have."

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