HAYDEN — Unofficial sources told The Press that a firefighting jet blew an engine Monday during takeoff from Coeur d’Alene Airport, dropping hot parts that started multiple fires north of the airport.
Officials cited an ongoing investigation in declining to comment on the cause of the fires.
Whatever the cause, local agencies spent much of Monday working to extinguish the blazes.
Northern Lakes Fire Department spokesman Jim Lyon said the department responded to more than eight separate fires on Monday.
Lyon said fires were “centered at the airport and went out to about a five-mile radius to the east, north and west.” The airport fire was “brought under control within a couple hours but many took several hours throughout the area,” he added. He emphasized the collaborative efforts of area fire departments.
“Pretty much every agency north of Coeur d’Alene was working on it,” Lyon said.
One Kootenai County Fire and Rescue firefighter was slightly injured and transported in a non-emergency vehicle to be checked out by medical staff. His condition was unknown, Lyon said.
Northern Lakes Capt. Jerry Moreau was on the scene of a fire near the Avondale electrical substation at Lancaster Road and U.S. 95. At about 2:30 p.m., an air tanker full of fire retardant dropped its load onto the flames there, which transformed billowing smoke, visible from miles away, into a mostly extinguished mop-up operation.
Idaho State troopers kept motorists on the highway at bay for the air drop, which temporarily painted a wide swath of the federal road bright red. While one crew handled the Avondale fire, another crew swarmed a separate conflagration, Moreau said.
“We divided and conquered,” he said.
U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Shoshana Cooper said no structures were damaged by the fires. The cause of the fires is under investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, she said.
Cooper said the airport has been home to three heavy air tankers, which each carry up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant, plus single engine air tankers which carry 750 gallons of retardant. The aircraft have been supporting firefighting efforts in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, as well as in Montana and Washington. “They’ve been quite busy,” Cooper said.
Steven Kjergaard, airport director, said airport officials did close the runway briefly due to unspecified debris on the runway. He also said he could not comment further because of the ongoing investigation.
Area firefighters battled several other fires at the same time in Kootenai County.
A brush fire just north of Athol that grew to about three-quarters of an acre on north First Street was under control in just over an hour, Timberlake Fire Chief Bill Steele said.
It was reported at 3:52 p.m.
No structures were threatened and an Idaho Department of Lands investigator was trying to determine the cause on Monday night.
“There was a fresh campfire ring within the fire, but we don’t know yet if that was the origin,” Steele said.
A firefighting crew remained on scene Monday, mopping up the fire.
Steele said the fire was north of Highway 54. There were no injuries.
“A resident on Homestead in Bonner County said he was looking to the south and called it in,” Steele said.
Wind was not a factor in the fire, Steele said.
However, the sizzling heat — highs of at least 96 were reported Monday afternoon — posed an extra challenge to responders.
“We did a good job of making sure we kept hydrated,” he said.
Selkirk Fire and Kootenai County EMS also responded to the fire.
Steele said Timberlake also responded to a structure fire in Bonner County on Monday to assist Selkirk. He did not know further details at press time.
He said Timberlake crews also assisted Northern Lakes with fires near the Coeur d’Alene Airport and Rathdrum.
“We had eight or nine calls today and, for us, that’s a busy day,” Steele said.
Limited information was available Monday evening about a wildfire north of Hauser Lake.
Hauser Lake Fire District Chief Larry Simms said his department was busy assisting Northern Lakes at two fires in the Rathdrum area and another near the Coeur d’Alene Airport so it didn’t respond to the Newman Lake ridge fire near the state line.
The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat warning in our area effective until 8 p.m. today.
Staff writer Brian Walker contributed to this report.