Rural residents shocked by spread, destructiveness of wildfires so early in the season

NESPELEM, Wash. — 10,000 acres have burned in Nespelem and the surrounding areas. Smoke still fills the air, and on the Colville Reservation, people are still under orders to evacuate.

Those who live in these rural areas always know wildfires are a threat, but many can’t believe they’re seeing this much devastation this early in the season.

“I seen a little dark cloud with a plume on the top of it, and I looked at it and said ‘Oh my gosh, I hope that’s not dropping anything on us,'” said Enid Wippel, who lives near the fire.

That little dark cloud unleashed lightning strikes that ignited five fires still burning today. Wippel has lived in this area for 30 years. She knows how destructive wildfires are, but wasn’t prepared to see this much destruction so soon.

“I’ve worked in fire for the past 30 years, and never in the 30 years have we ever been at a ‘Very High’ [fire danger level] at the end of June,” said Wippel.

Very high danger, and very real fear for people who aren’t sure what they’ll come home to.

“I have a lot of personal belongings up there, and I hate to lose them,” said Carolyn Francis, a woman displaced by the fire.

People who live in Nespelem and on the Colville Reservation still can’t go home and aren’t sure when they’ll be able to.

“Right now, we’re probably talking 300 people,” said Douglas Marconi, executive director for the Colville Indian Housing Authority.

Washington is seeing one of its driest seasons on record. No rain and extreme heat are causing fires like this to happen sooner and last longer.

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“This one moved so quick and so fast that it took everyone by surprise,” said Marconi.

But it was no surprise for this community to band together and make sure everyone got to safety.

“Our fire crews, I’m so proud of them,” said Wippel. “They’ve saved a lot of homes. Saved mine.”

“It made my heart drop,” said Barbara Cox, another woman forced to flee her home. “Oh geez, we’re stuck in between this, but our community worked together.”

They are looking for donations of water and household items. If you want to make a donation, they are accepting them near the Tribal Corrections Building near School Loop Rd.

RELATED: Colville Tribes declare state of emergency due to area wildfires