Firestorm 1991 still burned into Spokane's memory

If you say the words “Firestorm 1991,” most people will know what you’re talking about. On October 16, 1991, 92 fires started across Spokane County, burning more than 35,000 acres, destroying 100 homes, and killing one person. It’s been 25 years since then, and firefighters say they’re still putting those lessons to use.

That day, the conditions were so dry when the winds started blowing around 6:00 a.m.

“We were in a firefight all day long which was unusual,” says Ed Lewis, the former fire chief for Spokane County Fire District 5.

Ed Lewis had been appointed fire chief a week before Firestorm and he remembers that day very clearly.

“At that point we were spread very thin. And we saw a wall of fire coming over the hillside,” Lewis says, pointing to a hill by the Chattaroy Hills mobile home park.

He says flames were nearly 500 feet wide and 30 feet tall, and moving quickly.

“At that point, we recognized certainly that this location, everything in the path of the fire, was going to burn,” he says.

The mobile home park was wiped out. And after Firestorm, a case study was done to see how things could be improved.

“There aren't enough fire trucks on those days. There aren't enough firefighters on those days. So how do we utilize those scarce resources that we have for the most good for the citizens that we serve?” says Lewis.

Changes were made. There’s now a coordination system, field operations guides standardizing procedures for response, strengthened relationships with land management agencies, and a mobilization act.

And of course, these lessons helped in fighting the last few fire seasons, but each fire also presents another lesson.

Fire prevention and response is something they say they’re always looking to build on and improve.

For a copy of the case study:

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