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The Grizzly Gazette

The Grizzly Gazette

Rampaging Firestorms in Eastern Washington

Photo Credit: Britannica

On Friday, August 18, the Gray Fire and the Oregon Road Fire struck the city of Medical Lake in Eastern Washington. By Sunday afternoon, 20,000 acres of land had been destroyed and authorities said the two wildfires left 259 buildings in ruin, shutting down a major highway and leaving two people dead. However, rates of fires are ever-growing and have increased at a rapid pace. The firestorm left citizens in great turmoil and deep tragedy. 

Fueled by wind and dry brush, the residents of Spokane underwent a mandatory evacuation, thousands of residents in the area were forced to flee for safety. Spokane County Sheriff John Nowels said, “This fire is moving very rapidly, and I don’t want residents to underestimate how quickly they can find themselves in trouble.” Through the evacuation, deputies were rushing from house to house, “We’ve had to rescue people by boat. We’ve had to rescue people by helicopter,” Nowels said. 

A resident of Medical Lake said he heard someone banging on his apartment door the day of the fire. Jerry Hamilton, aged 54, was reportedly surprised by the proximity of the Gray Fire. Hamilton heard people screaming “Get in the car — get in the car!” and said, “My room turns orange and then turns red.” 

By the end of Friday, thousands of residents had been sheltered in a local college building in Spokane, Washington. Supplied with donations of clothes and books, residents sorted through the pile, grabbing essentials and clutching salvaged items close. 

Another set of victims, Zack Zappone’s parents and uncle, were evacuated from their home during the firestorms. “They were driving into Spokane when they got alerts on their phone that there were … evacuations at their house,” said Zappone in an interview with The Associated Press. “They went back to get their dogs. My stepmom said it was a giant cloud of smoke and darkness. Embers were falling from the sky.

Others found safety at Eastern State Hospital amidst the busy environment of staff and patients. A Delegate for the Department of Social and Health Services Norah West said more residents were living at the Lakeland Village Residential Habilitation Center.

Catherine Swan, an evacuee of the Gray Fire, described the rubble of her neighbors homes as lava. However, Swan was still hopeful in the dire situation. “…I’m going to go back to the land and we’re going to regrow,” Swan said. 

Accordingly, Washington Governor Jay Inslee said, “My thoughts are with the … residents who have been ordered to evacuate as the Gray Fire grows. 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.” 

Due to these two massive wildfires, Eastern Washington was left in ashes. Residents suffered terrible losses and the traumatic events in late August led to a new chapter in Medical Lake’s history.

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