Sunday Update Impact of Local Fires

A message from EWU President Shari McMahan

August 19, 2023 By David Meany
Facade of Showalter Hall

Dear Campus Community,

The wildfires in our region continue to displace our friends, family and neighbors–forcing thousands of individuals to evacuate their homes–our hearts go out to all those who have been impacted. We are saddened to hear of two casualties reported and more than 200 structures lost. Please continue to support your fellow community members who are facing these devastating challenges. And know that the EWU community will support you however we can.

After consulting with emergency personnel and community partners, the university will be open and is fully operational for Monday, Aug. 21. Please see below for the latest updates on local fires; status updates on current EWU operations; shelter, health/safety and support resources; and emergency information resources. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide further updates as we receive new information. Emergency notifications will be sent via our EagleSafe service.

As of 7:45 p.m., here is what we know about the local fires:

  • Gray (Medical Lake) Fire: Currently burning at about 10,000 acres (nearly 16 square miles) with 10% containment. Level 3 (Go Now) and Level 2 (Get Set) evacuations in place in multiple areas. WSDOT continues to report I-90 remaining closed in both directions (westbound from the town of Sprague to the US-2 interchange; eastbound from Sprague to Four Lakes/SR-904) with detours in place.
  • Oregon (Elk) Fire: Currently burning at about 9,200 acres with 0% containment. Level 3 (Go Now) and Level 1 (Get Ready) evacuations in place.
  • There are additional fires burning in the region–please refer to local emergency information for evacuation levels and instructions, as existing fires can change quickly and new fires can start suddenly.

Additional information on university campus operations for Monday, Aug. 21, 2023:

  • Semester-based operations (Spokane):
    • WSU Spokane has confirmed that the Health Science Building (HSB) and the WSU Spokane campus are open and operational.
    • Faculty should work with their Department Chair and College Dean if they believe they need to offer a flexible learning environment tomorrow.
    • Staff should work with their supervisors if they need flexibility.
    • Students with concerns should reach out to their faculty.
  • Quarter-based operations (primarily Cheney; some Spokane):
    • Closures to I-90 and detours are resulting in heavy traffic routing through the City of Cheney. Please plan accordingly for traffic delays and refer to the WSDOT website for closures and detours.
  • Air quality:
    • We encourage you to prioritize your health and safety and minimize exposure to outside air. Individuals may want to consider wearing a mask.
    • The HVAC systems in EWU’s buildings in Cheney and Spokane are in normal operating conditions and have air filtration.
    • Environmental Health & Safety will continue to conduct air quality assessments inside EWU buildings.

Your health and safety is our priority. Please prioritize your own well-being and ensure you and your loved ones are cared for first. Road closures and detours are causing extreme traffic delays, and air quality may remain hazardous in some areas tomorrow. Please check the local emergency resources list to help you evaluate your situation and make a decision.

There are several resources available to provide support to one another:

  • Impacted students can connect with the Student Accommodations and Support Services team for support with displacement, health, wellness and safety concerns, absences, and emergency support. Students are encouraged to contact their faculty for assistance with classes and support.
  • Faculty and staff can access the Employee Assistance Program. Please contact your supervisor for assistance; we will support your needs. Impacted faculty should contact their students if possible.
  • If your home has been affected by fire, resources are available through the American Red Cross: 1-844-292-7677.
  • If you need food, you can find meal sources near you through 2nd Harvest.
  • Shelters are in place at Spokane Falls Community College and Riverside High School for people, and at the Spokane County Fairgrounds for large animals.
  • Opportunities to provide support: Donate to the American Red Cross, EWU Student Emergency Fund and a local/EWU food pantry.

On behalf of the campus community, I want to thank the emergency personnel and volunteers who are supporting our friends, family and neighbors who have been evacuated from their homes. Some of our community members are confronting terrible conditions and we are providing support and resources as needed. I know we will all be there for one another–as Eagles and community members. Please continue to extend your grace and support. I wish you and your loved ones safety and comfort during this difficult situation.

Dr. Shari McMahan


Eastern Washington University

See previous message from President McMahan.