1 dead, 185 structures destroyed in eastern Washington wildfire

19 August 2023

MEDICAL LAKE, Wash. (AP) — A wind-driven wildfire in eastern Washington state has destroyed at least 185 structures, closed a major highway and left one person dead, officials said Saturday.

The blaze started on the west side of Medical Lake, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) west of Spokane, at about 12:30 p.m. Friday, Washington State Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Isabelle Hoygaard said Saturday.

It grew to 14.8 square miles (38 square kilometers) by Saturday morning, with zero containment. The burned structures were a mixture of homes and outbuildings.

Level 3 evacuations — Go Now — were ordered for the town as winds blew the flames south, Hoygaard said. The blaze burned through the south side of the town and then jumped Interstate 90 Friday night, forcing its closure. The major east-west thoroughfare remained closed in both directions Saturday morning.

“The fire is burning on both sides of the highway,” the Washington state Department of Transportation said on its webpage.

There was one confirmed fatality associated with the fire, Hoygaard said.

Staff, patients and residents at Eastern State Hospital, one of the state’s two psychiatric facilities, and those living at the Lakeland Village Residential Habilitation Center, both located in Medical Lake, were sheltering in place Saturday, said Norah West, a spokesman for the Department of Social and Health Services.

Evacuees from the town were given shelter at Cheney High School overnight. The cause of the fire was not immediately known.

“My thoughts are with the Medical Lake, WA, residents who have been ordered to evacuate as the Gray Fire grows,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said on X, formally known as Twitter. “I’m also praying for the safety of the first responders working to contain the fire. May you all remain safe and out of harm’s way.”

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