NCW — A smattering of fires were reported this morning after some 400 lightning strikes hit the ground between Moses Lake and Grand Coulee Tuesday night and early this morning, officials say.
But significant rain was the real hero, after fire officials had prepared for a storm without moisture.
A red flag warning was in effect throughout the region, as the storms were expected to come with very little rain, increasing the chance that initial attack crews may not be able to handle the number of fires ignited.
Instead, reports this morning indicate that the storm came with plenty of rain, and in some places, hail.
The rain helped suppression efforts on a one-tenth-acre fire burning in the Apple Acres area north of the Chelan Airport, said Roland Giller, spokesman for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. A 20-person crew and fire engine were fighting that fire this morning, he said.
It also may have extinguished a fire reported at Leahy Junction, where dispatchers say a fire was reported, but Douglas County Fire District 3 Chief Dale Rinker said he wasn’t informed of it.
“We got a pretty hard rainstorm,” he said. “We had several strikes, and a pretty good hailstorm. Hopefully, we got it wet enough so we don’t get a lot of fires out of it.”
The rain and hail may not be good news for wheat growers, however.
Heavy rain and 1-inch hail hit wheat country north of Coulee City in Douglas County early Wednesday from one thunderstorm, said Ron Miller, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Spokane. He heard from a wheat farmer on the Waterville Plateau who was checking his crop for damage.
Miller said more lightning is possible this afternoon, “and then hot weather.”
The forecast calls for 93 degrees in Wenatchee on Thursday, climbing to 98 degrees on Friday. That could dry things out, and cause smoldering fires to become visible.
The U.S. Forest Service will be sending out planes to look for smoke, possibly over the next three days, said Brant Stanger, dispatch coordinator for the Central Washington Interagency Communications Center.
Miller said only about 25 lightning strikes hit in Chelan County, with the majority coming down in Douglas and Grant counties. Okanogan County was still getting hit this morning, he said.
Firefighters were on their way to check on 11 reports of smoke in northern Okanogan County this morning, a dispatcher at the Northeast Washington Interagency Communications Center said.
But the storms there also came with plenty of rain.
“We got lightning and thunder and a ton of rain,” said Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers. “The roads are flooded right now. There are crews out there trying to clean the gutters,” he said.
Okanogan Fire Chief Gordon Hennigs said firefighters went to check on two reports of lightning strikes, but were unable to locate a fire.
He said the 2,000-acre fire that swept through the outskirts of Okanogan on Monday afternoon was contained by Tuesday afternoon.
The 35-acre Sun Mountain Fire in the Lake Chelan Sawtooth Wilderness southwest of Twisp is in the mop-up stage. The Entiat Hotshot crew went home Tuesday, and fire officials expect to take all firefighters off the fire in the next few days, and begin monitoring it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.