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Sunday, December 10, 2023
Dec. 10, 2023

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Oregon Fire in northern Spokane County torches 30 structures, over 8,000 acres

Vast area remains under mandatory evacuation order


Fifteen-year-old Tyler Murphy lost not only his home; the Oregon Fire burning near Elk leveled three other homes belonging to his family.

“It’s just emotional,” Murphy said Saturday, just steps away from his grandfather’s home that turned to rubble. “We’ll get over it, rebuild and start over again.”

About 30 structures were destroyed Friday evening in the wildfire in northern Spokane County that has been overshadowed by a second massive fire on the West Plains.

The blaze to the north, called the Oregon Fire, started about 4 miles northeast of the community of Elk and has burned 8,300 acres of farm fields and forest.

The fire left most trees standing but reduced vegetation on the forest floor to powder. Tiny spot fires could be seen rising from whatever forest fuel remained Saturday. Smoke was also rising from the ashes.

Still, some trees fell, including a few across Jefferson Road that forced drivers to slowly weave through. Power lines were also on the ground.

Besides homes and other structures, cars, fences and mailboxes were destroyed.

A vast area remained under a mandatory, or Level 3, evacuation order Saturday. The fire was reported to be 0% contained. The evacuation area includes a large area east and southeast of Elk.

The fire, which was first reported about 4 p.m. Friday to be a simple 2-acre brush fire, was pushed by sustained winds of 19 mph. More than 100 people evacuated to a shelter at Riverside High School.

Thirteen fire engines and 60 firefighters responded to the fire, with state aid being readied.

Some people, like Murphy, could be seen Saturday outside burned and unburned homes on Oregon Road and surrounding roads.

Murphy said his grandfather built the home long ago, while Murphy’s home, where he lived with his mother and sister, was in ruins a short walk away.

“We waited till the last second,” Murphy said about evacuating Friday. “We could see stuff falling from the sky, so we just finally had enough and said, ‘Let’s go before it gets too late.'”

They returned to the torched homes Friday night.

Murphy said his two uncles lost their houses first before the fire swallowed his and his grandpa’s. Several vehicles and other buildings were destroyed on his grandfather’s property.

He said his mother and sister were at his father’s home, where he will stay.

Murphy and his friends were trying to start his Ford F-150 outside his grandpa’s home Saturday. The keys were inside his grandfather’s house.

They eventually succeeded, and Murphy drove the truck his grandfather gave him away.

Hank MoChroi was using a hose to water greenery around his in-laws’ property Saturday on Oregon Road. Scorched trees and a dugout fire line could be seen across the road from the property.

Like Murphy, MoChroi, who lives on Spokane’s South Hill, said he and his family waited until the last minute to evacuate late Friday night.

“We left thinking that the house was gonna be gone, and then a fire crew came in and just set up a line,” MoChroi said. “They got very lucky being able to come back to their house today, because it’s really close.”

He said the flames felt like they were going to surround him and his family, forcing the evacuation.

“That was one of the reasons why we left is, like, we just need to make sure we can get away if we need to,” MoChroi said.

MoChroi’s wife and her parents were hanging out at the home Saturday.

Many people left for Riverside High School, where the American Red Cross set up a shelter for evacuees. Food, water and clothing were available at the shelter.

People filled the 40 cots Friday night in the school gymnasium while over 100 others slept in their cars and RVs in the parking lot, said Cheryl Provorse, Red Cross shelter supervisor.

Over 200 people visited the school by Saturday afternoon, she said.

Provorse said people can donate items, including dry and wet pet food for cats and dogs, diapers, surface cleaning wipes and paper towels.

Phoebe Duke, a member of the Spokane Livestock Emergency Evacuation Team , was one of many volunteers on the side of U.S. Highway 2 ready to retrieve livestock from evacuees’ properties. She said Saturday afternoon that volunteers had rounded up hundreds of animals, including chickens, horses, cows, sheep, goats and alpacas, from people evacuating from the Elk fire.

Duke said they transferred most animals to the Spokane Interstate Fairgrounds, while some went to the Clayton Fairgrounds, where animal owners can take care of them.

Jeremey Barger and his mother evacuated late Friday night and had been at the school parking lot ever since. He said they had not heard Saturday whether their rental home had burned.

“There’s a lot of stuff that I have that I hope doesn’t get lost in this,” Barger said.

He said he grabbed his cats and computer and piled items into their Kia. Barger said they planned to stay at a nearby home, but if that didn’t work out, they would sleep inside the school or in their car.

Neighbors Eve Phipps and Linda Noah planned to stay with their husbands Saturday night in the school parking lot after evacuating early Saturday morning.

“The Red Cross is taking wonderful care of us, I think,” Phipps said.

“If you have to be displaced, they’re doing a good job making it less painful for us,” she added.

She said a Spokane County evacuation notice on her phone woke her up Saturday.

“I brought the basic necessities: my husband and my two cats,” Phipps said.

Phipps stayed in an RV and Noah in a camper Saturday night. Both were worried about their homes.

“The wind could change,” Noah said.

Phipps said a 1991 firestorm came within a quarter-mile of their houses.

Noah said she listened to stories of some people at the shelter who lost their homes Friday. One man told them it was the second home he’s lost to a fire.

“My heart goes out to the people that lost their homes,” Phipps said.

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