‘Fire Storm’ 27 years ago today in eastern Washington raised prevention awareness

Twenty-seven years ago today, gale-force winds combined with dry and unseasonably warm weather combined to ignite the Fire Storm in Spokane County. It was called ‘Fire Storm’ because that’s exactly what took place. On October 16, 1991, wind gusts of up to 62 miles per hour were recorded in eastern Washington. Within hours, 92 wildfires had started — approximately 90 percent of them due to the gale-force winds that snapped power lines or pushed trees into power lines.

Most of the homes lost to wildfire in the following days were in what we call the wildland urban interface, where homes and forest intermix. There was one fatality during the fire and 114 homes and numerous other structures were destroyed. Population growth in wildland urban interfaces is a major reason that wildfires have become more disastrous.

Lessons learned
Many homeowners affected by the Fire Storm of 1991 were caught with a lack of knowledge about the wildfire risks where they lived. As a result, the National Fire Protection Association developed a program, Firewise, to help homeowners protect themselves and their property from wildfire. Since then, dozens of communities in eastern and western Washington state have qualified as Firewise communities because they took steps to reduce wildfire risks.

The two largest risks for homes during wildfires are:

  • A flammable roof, vulnerable to the wind-carried embers during a wildfire
  • Vegetation close to a house that can ignite and generate heat or flames that burn siding or other parts of the structure

The legacies of Fire Storm include the establishment of the State Mobilization Process that is under the authority of the Washington State Patrol and a greater awareness of the problems associated with people moving into the wildland urban interface.

Quick facts about Fire Storm 1991
Maximum wind gust: 62 mph
Homes destroyed: 114
Acres burned: 35,000
Homes threatened: 511
Separate fires: 92
Largest single fire: 13,840 acres
Firefighters responding: 4,000
Fire engines responding: 400
Fatalities: 1
9-1-1 calls received, first 24 hours: 3,000

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