Lake Roosevelt area hit by strong winds, wildfire, and 7-foot waves

Lake Roosevelt storm
Effects of the windstorm at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area. NPS photo by Denise Bausch

The staff at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area on the Columbia River (map) in northeast Washington must have felt like they were in an apocalyptic movie on August 2 when the area suffered the wrath of a very strong wind event that triggered seven-foot waves, swamped boats, blown-down trees, and a lightning-caused fire. Here is how it was reported in the National Park Service’s Morning Report:


“On August 2nd, the third windstorm in as many weeks hit Lake Roosevelt, leading to numerous calls for help from boaters and causing significant damage and a wildland fire.

Staff from the park, the Colville Confederated Tribes and the Spokane Tribe of Indians responded to numerous calls of boaters in distress and property damage from wind gusts as high as 50 mph that created waves up to seven feet high. Miraculously, no one was injured or hurt inside the recreation area.

Boaters were plucked out of the lake and swamped vessels were de-watered. Numerous trees were blown down in campgrounds, damaging several travel trailers, and the park sustained thousands of dollars of damage to boat docks and anchor systems.

A lightning strike from the storm started a fire inside the park downstream of the Enterprise Boat-in Campground.  The Enterprise Fire was in steep and rough terrain.  Responding rangers did a GAR assessment to size up the fire safely.  A Type III incident [management] team was brought in to manage the multiagency effort, including NPS staff from Lake Roosevelt and North Cascades and personnel from the Forest Service, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and the Stevens County Volunteer Fire Department.

Concentrated aerial operations and successful burnout efforts kept the fire from moving from a heavily timbered area into several homes and structures in the adjacent wildland/urban interface.

During aerial operations, a five-mile section of the Columbia River was closed by the superintendent and the U.S. Coast Guard utilizing the “captain of the port” authority. Park rangers utilized vessels to enforce this safety zone so fixed wing aircraft and helicopters could dip water for suppression activities.  They also transported firefighters across the water to and from the burned areas, and stayed close in case an evacuation was necessary.

[Submitted by Marty Huseman, Chief Ranger]

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.