Wildfire, high winds prompt evacuation of Washington town of Medical Lake


With a wildfire bearing down, officials on Friday gave orders for evacuation of the entire town of Medical Lake, Wash

Pushed by 35 mph winds, the Gray Fire grew from an estimated 500 acres to nearly 3,000 in the span of a few hours Friday afternoon, according to tweets from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. 

By 5 p.m., it had already scorched property within the city limits. Medical Lake is home to nearly 5,000 people and is about 12 miles southwest of Spokane. 

“We know that some homes have burned. We don’t know how many,” said Joe Smillie, a spokesman for the department. “This blew up really big, really fast. It’s been really hot the last week.”

The fire jumped Interstate 90 after 5 p.m., closing portions of the highway in both directions and forcing officials to begin evacuations of Four Lakes, a small town of about 500 people. Another major thoroughfare, State Route 902 was also closed in both directions near Medical Lake.

A view of the Gray Fire in Medical Lake, Washington, on Aug. 18, 2023.
A view of the Gray Fire in Medical Lake, Washington, on Friday.Spokane County Fire District 10

Spokane County Sheriff John Nowels said his agency was not aware of any injuries or deaths in Medical Lake. He said his deputies Friday afternoon were “running from house to house” inside the evacuation area urging people to leave their homes.

Nowels said the fire is “zero percent” contained and burning into more populated areas, including neighborhoods and at a school.

He estimated more than 100 law enforcement officers had responded to the fires.

“We’ve had to rescue people by boat. We’ve had to rescue people by helicopter,” Nowels said. “If you’re in an evacuation area leave. We have some folks who refused to leave. Fire then overtakes where they’re at and they need to be rescued.” 

Twenty Washington Air National Guard members on Friday afternoon helped to evacuate patients and staff from Eastern State Hospital, a 367-bed inpatient psychiatric hospital.

Smillie said it wasn’t clear what caused the fire.

The agency on Friday afternoon was encouraging people to seek shelter at a high school in the neighboring town of Cheney. By Friday evening, Cheney was under a level-one evacuation notice, meaning officials were asking people to be ready to leave, according to Smillie. He said officials were working out a plan for evacuees if the fire continued to approach Cheney.

Two other fires started in other parts of Washington state on Friday afternoon. The fires, in Washington’s Douglas and Whitman counties, were both about 5,000 acres as of about 5 p.m., Smillie said.

Much of inland Washington state was under a red flag warning on Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

“Warm, dry winds will continue through the afternoon producing critical fire conditions,” forecasters wrote.

Gov. Jay Inslee said his thoughts were with everyone affected.

“I’m also praying for the safety of the first responders working to contain the fire,” Inslee said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “May you all remain safe and out of harm’s way.”


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