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Storms leave outages, fires, damage in wake

Outbuilding lost in Yellow Bull Fire

Fed by dry grass and driven by gusting winds, the Dewey Fire (pictured here Aug. 30) quickly burned across a Harpster-area hillside. Several structures were threatened but none was lost.

Photo by David Rauzi
Fed by dry grass and driven by gusting winds, the Dewey Fire (pictured here Aug. 30) quickly burned across a Harpster-area hillside. Several structures were threatened but none was lost.


Viewed from State Highway 162 looking south last Tuesday night, Aug. 29, the Yellow Bull Fire sweeps across the hillside and into the timber. Emergency vehicles are seen at bottom.

Fires, property damage, power outages: Early last week, two successive storm fronts moved across the region, causing a fair share of chaos – and subsequent cleanup — for residents and emergency crews.

In fires alone, the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office received 19 fire start reports through the duration, starting just before 6 p.m. on Aug. 29 and into early Thursday afternoon, Aug. 31.

Largest of these was the 200-acre Yellow Bull Fire, a lightning-start reported last Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., 10 miles southwest of Kamiah between Red Rock Road and State Highway 162. Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) crews were supplemented with a Cottonwood Fire Department tanker and more than 30 volunteers with tractors, implements and a dozer. The blaze was viewed across the Camas Prairie throughout the night, and firefighters saved three homes; however, an outbuilding was lost. It was controlled Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 30.

Multiple Harpster-area structures were threatened that Wednesday afternoon when lightning ignited a steep slope of grass and timber eight miles northeast of Grangeville. Multiple agencies battled the 48-acre Dewey Fire – including IDL, USFS and Harpster Rural Fire Department, along with helicopter and SEAT (single engine air tanker) water drops. Containment was made that Friday, and no structures were lost.

During the Tuesday-Wednesday events, wind damage from the storm — as far south as White Bird – entailed downed trees that blocked streets and including highways 162 and 12 near Kamiah, and took down power lines. The microburst from Tuesday’s storm, according to National Weather Service (NWS) Missoula office meteorologist Stefanie Henry, extended as far north as Cottonwood and the Kamiah and Weippe areas and into Kooskia. Unconfirmed reports received by the NWS office were wind gusts anywhere from 45 mph to between 60 and 70 mph.

For Avista, the utility reported two separate weather-related outage incidents. Tuesday’s outage affected 1,500 customers in Kamiah and surrounding areas starting at 5 p.m. with service restored at 8:30 p.m. During this, according to spokesperson, Sandra Hoye, seven transmission structures were damaged, requiring seven new ones to be put in place. The following day, Aug. 30, a second storm knocked out power at 4:30 p.m. in the same area to 1,400, the outage extending into the following morning when service was restored to the majority of customers.

Due to the storm’s impact upon the system, Avista called in crews from Clarkston, Pullman, Grangeville and Spokane to assist in repair and restoration efforts.

“We put every effort behind this,” Hoye said, in restoring power to customers as quickly as possible.

Idaho County Light and Power reported substantial numbers of its membership were without service due to storm-related outages.

For its Kooskia area — consisting of the Syringa, Middlefork, Suttler Creek, Harris Ridge, Selway and Lowell areas – 1,005 meters were affected for about 10 hours and 40 minutes, with power restored at 3:45 a.m. on Aug. 30.

“We had to patrol the line after Avista restored power to the Kooskia Substation because of the fire danger,” said Chad Hill, ICLP engineering and operations director. “We did not experience any trouble in this area. It just took us awhile to look at the line to make sure we didn’t have something on it.”

For its Kamiah area — consisting of Glenwood, Woodland, Caribel, Adams Grade and Pardee – 922 meters were out. Damaged by high winds and trees across power lines, transmission structures were repaired in the Adams Grade, Caribel, Glenwood and Woodland areas. Power was mostly restored on Aug. 30 – except for Kidder Ridge – around 5:30 p.m., according to Hill, and then Avista’s transmission line went down due to severe winds; 922 meters went out again. Once Avista’s Kamiah substation was restored, ICLP brought its members back on in sections after looking at the line. Power was restored at 10:25 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 31.

“When the fire danger is this high, it takes us longer to turn the power back on because we have to look at all of the areas that are affected,” Hill said. “This is in effort to try and prevent a fire if we can.”

Cause of the storm, according to Henry, was a combination of monsoonal moisture from the southwest and dry low-level moisture.

“Typically, when that happens, where temperatures are warm and the dewpoint is low, we’ll get evaporation from a storm. It will try to rain out and it will evaporate and cause downburst of wind as it flows out. It actually causes pretty strong wind damage.”

The problem with such storms, she explained, is they don’t have strong reflectivity on radar, and with NWS Missoula’s radar at 8,000 feet, by the time a storm reaches this part of Idaho, their office is only seeing the upper part.

“We knew the environment was prime for it, but we didn’t know where or when,” Henry said. So, from what information was available, NWS put out an advisory on what they thought would be the stronger part of the storm, south of Kamiah, that ended up being the weaker part.

Much the same storm setup occurred last Wednesday, except with more moisture and higher dewpoints, according to Henry, “so it was less of a dry microburst and more a cold pool outflow effect.” Definitely, the effects were more widespread that day, she said, with downed trees. For example, a 2.5-foot diameter tree southeast of Woodland was snapped in half: “The winds able to do something like that are estimated at 60 mph,” she said.


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