23 years later: Firestorm '91 leads to many changes in emergency - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

23 years later: Firestorm '91 leads to many changes in emergency management

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Crews battle a brush fire during Firestorm in 1991. Crews battle a brush fire during Firestorm in 1991.
SPOKANE, Wash. - 23 years ago today wind-whipped wildfires took off in Spokane. There were nearly 100 fires in all, most started on October 16th, 1991. It took several days and multiple agencies to get the fires contained. By the end of what is now called 'Firestorm' 1 person was dead and more than 100 homes had burnt to the ground.

The first fire was reported at 8:49 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 16, adjacent to Spokane International Airport. For the next couple of hours, dispatchers received calls nearly nonstop and dispatched alarms about once every 60 seconds. They received 3,000 calls in the first 12 hours alone.

By noon, every state Department of Natural Resources, county and city fire resource was committed to putting out these pop-up brush fires  before they could grow. Crews continued fighting the fires into the weekend. They made progress, but another windy day was forecast for Monday, Oct. 21.

The second round of fires was met with heavy suppression. Even so, by the time all the fires were contained 1 person was dead, 114 homes were destroyed and numerous other buildings were damaged.

Even though Firestorm was more than 2 decades ago, it led to many changes in emergency response. After the firestorm, a fire mobilization system was created to allow fire officials to quickly mobilize resources from around the state. Training also changed; now city and county firefighters receive more training on fighting wildfires, not just structure fires. Spokane County created the state's first specially trained incident management team, which is on duty 24/7.

During firestorm, dispatchers for 4 agencies in Spokane County received thousands of calls for service which made coordinating difficult. 7 years later officials unveiled the Combined Communication Center, and all Spokane County fire emergency calls are now dispatched from one location.

Spokane County has activated a reverse-911 system, called Alert Spokane, to tell homeowners of emergencies so they can be better prepared if they need to evacuate. (Register for Alert Spokane HERE:http://www.spokaneprepares.org/spokaneens.php )

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