‘This is it. This is all I grabbed’: Nespelem residents leave behind everything to escape fires

NESPELEM, Wash. — We’ve been seeing it and saying it for weeks: the fire danger in our region is extremely high.

And for the town of Nespelem, the danger was at their doorstep.

Three fires sparked by lightning spread quickly through Nespelem and surrounding communities Monday night.

Kathy Moses with the Mount Tolman Fire Center says a fourth fire started overnight which kept fire crews busy.

“We’re waking up to finding out that we have another fire that’s started, and that’s called ‘Kino Fire’, which is northeast of Keller, Washington,” said Moses.

With fires burning and no containment, it set off Level 3 evacuations for nearly everyone in the area.

RELATED: Several fires burning near Nespelem force Level 3 evacuations

“With the loud speaker, the cop was going around, ‘You’re in Level 3 evac, you need to leave’,” said Nespelem resident Jodi Pakootas.

She and her family escaped Nespelem Monday night to stay at a Red Cross Shelter in Coulee Dam.

“This is it. This is all I grabbed. I was wearing pajamas cause it was already nighttime and I just threw on my swimsuit and left,” said Pakootas. “All you could see was smoke, ash—ash was starting to fall. By the time we got down here, it must have been 10 o’clock last night.”

Pakootas and her family woke up at the shelter, hoping their home would still be there when they went back.

In the overnight fires, seven buildings were lost, three of them occupied, four unoccupied.

Seven outbuildings were destroyed as well.

Moses says fire crews did everything they could to save as much as they could.

“Due to the weather conditions and everything we’ve had, this place was just waiting for a fire,” she said. “And it’s just terrible that these people have lost their homes.”

The devastating scene we saw Monday night may have passed, but for this Central Washington community, the path to recovery is just beginning.

RELATED: PHOTOS: Wildfire leaves trail of destruction through Nespelem