Wildfires prompted mandatory evacuations near Colville Indian Reservation, residents now returning home

An evacuation order was issued Tuesday for the town of Nespelem on the Colville Indian Reservation as fire crews battle aggressive wildfires in Okanogan County. 

"It looked like lava, I mean it was scary. we had a fire last year, but it didn’t look nothing like it did here and it happened so fast. I mean within a matter of 10 to 15 minutes the winds were crazy," said Faith Zacherle with the nonprofit River Warrior Society. 

A spokesperson with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation said 11 thousand acres burned as of Tuesday night. Containment remained at zero with critical fire weather expected Wednesday.

The state Department of Natural Resources said there were power outages in the area and phone lines are down.

Nespelem, Buffalo Lake, Cache Creek and surrounding areas were all under mandatory evacuation notices, according to the Okanogan County Emergency Management. State Route 155 was open for people to get out. Officials do not want people to wait for door to door notifications, KXLY-TV reported.

As of Tuesday morning, seven structures, including three homes, were lost. Seven outbuildings were also lost, KXLY-TV reported. There is no estimate on the number of acres burned by the fires, which may have been caused by lightning strikes in the area Monday night.

A shelter is being set up by the Red Cross at the Grand Coulee Elementary School gym.

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Additionally, the state Department of Transportation is reminding drivers that SR 20 west of Winthrop remains closed for fire activity and there is no estimate for reopening. 

"To be clear: there is no way around the closure. It's closed for safety. There is no access. Please stay away from the closure point," the department wrote on Twitter Tuesday in response to people showing up hoping for a way to get through. 

The highway, which is popular among tourists in the summer months, will likely stay closed through the weekend as dry, gusty wind is expected in the area Wednesday and Thursday. 

And to the southeast where the largest fire in the state is burning, nearly 700 fire crew members continue to fight the Lick Creek Fire in Asotin County. As of Tuesday morning, 58,000 acres have been burned and the blaze 20 percent contained.  

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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