Updated, Friday 8:45 a.m.
NESPELEM — Firefighters worked through Thursday night protecting buildings along Cache Creek Road as the Chuweah Creek Fire reached 37,283 acres in size.
Windy and dry weather conditions caused the fire to grow north and east over the last couple days, according to a Friday morning Colville Agency news release. The fire has burned east to Keller Butte Road, crossing over in several places.
Crews are trying to keep the fire from spreading past Keller Butte Road, according to the release.
Wildfire growth between Nespelem and Buffalo Lake has “slowed considerably,” according to the release. A team of 260 are working to stop the fire, which is still at 20% containment as of Friday morning.
Evacuation notices along Cache Creek Road have dropped to Level 2 — be prepared, according to the release. Level 1 notices — be aware — are in effect for the San Poil Valley south of South Nanamkin Road, Nespelem and Keller.
A community meeting about the fire is to be held at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Keller Community Center.
Updated, Thursday 10:02 a.m.
NESPELEM — Crews have contained 20% of the 32,290-acre Chuweah Creek Fire as of Thursday morning.
Evacuation orders for residents in Nespelem have been reduced to Level 1 — be aware, according to a Colville Agency fire report. Level 2 notices — get ready — are in place for those by Owhi Flats along Cache Creeks Road, Buffalo Lake and McGinnis Lake.
The fire is expected to grow with high temperatures, gusty winds and low relative humidity predicted across the area through Thursday, according to the report. Resources on the ground are limited due to other wildfires burning in the region.
A crew of 200 are fighting the Chuweah Creek Fire using “an aggressive air attack strategy,” according to the report. The fire is estimated to be fully contained by July 23.
A shelter is still in place for evacuees in Coulee Dam at the Lake Roosevelt Jr/Sr High School.
Nearby road closures include Cache Creek Road, Cache Creek (Agency) Cut Off Road, Joe Moses Road as well as Buffalo Lake Road between Manila and Cache Creek Roads, according to the report.
NESPELEM — Residents in and around Nespelem who evacuated yesterday due lightning-sparked wildfires in southeast Okanogan County have been allowed to return to their homes, but are still on watch.
The Chuweah Creek Fire has burned about 15,000 acres and 14 structures as of Wednesday morning, said Kathy Moses, Public Information Officer with the Mt. Tolman Fire Center.
All Level 3 evacuation notices — get out now — have been lowered to Level 2 — be prepared, she said.
Andy Joseph Jr., chairman of the Colville Business Council said the fire is the largest of six in the area. Of the 14 burned structures, seven were homes and seven were outbuildings. He added that three of the homes were occupied.
Chuweah Creek Fire perimeter
This map is updated in real time using data collected by the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. The Chuweah Creek Fire's last known perimeter is marked in red.
The fire was reported at 7:15 p.m. Monday southeast of Nespelem, according to a news release from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation.
The fire is driven by wind and is burning in tall grass, sagebrush and timber, the release said. Structures are threatened. Local authorities have requested the aid of an incident management team and crews from the state Department of Natural Resources.
The Colville Reservation declared a state of emergency on Tuesday and closed off all forest roads to the public. State and county roads are still open.
Level 2 evacuations — be prepared — are still in place for residents of Nespelem, Owhi Flats along Cache Creek Road, and Colville Indian Agency. Nespelem is a town of about 200 located 15 miles north of the Grand Coulee Dam.
“A lot of people had to just pick up and leave their homes,” Joseph said in an interview Tuesday.
He added that livestock have been killed in the fire and some owners have euthanized their animals to avoid unnecessary suffering, Joseph said.
Forty community members evacuated to a gymnasium in Lake Roosevelt and elders residing at the Colville Tribal Convalescent Center were moved to a hotel in Coulee Dam, said Neeka Somday, a legislative assistant who joined Joseph in the interview. Others have gone to an RV park in Omak. The Red Cross is operating a shelter at the Coulee Dam High School gymnasium.
Inmates of the Colville Tribal Correctional Facility, located roughly a mile west of the fire, were evacuated to jails in Lincoln, Okanogan and Grant counties, Joseph said. The facility housed 25 inmates prior to the fire, according to its daily roster.
Joseph said the air was too smoky for aircraft to work on the fire, but he’s spoken with Gov. Jay Inslee for help. He noted that there could be reported fires in the area from the dry lightning storm that caused the Chuweah Creek Fire.
He lamented the fire weather conditions are among the worst he’s seen.
“It’s probably one of the driest summers that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime,” Joseph said.
He’s concerned that there are factors in place for the fire season to rival 2015 when the Okanogan Complex burned more that 300,000 acres.
“We’re hoping that it doesn’t get that bad but it has the highest potential to get that bad,” Joseph said.
World reporter Luke Hollister contributed to this report.