By Marcy Stamper
With cooler temperatures and longer nights, burn bans have been lifted in much of the state, but record-setting dry conditions in Okanogan County and much of eastern Washington mean that campfires and burning are still not allowed in many areas.
There is still a ban on all outdoor burning in Okanogan County, which means all agricultural burning and outdoor burning of vegetation is prohibited on private land. The use of gas- or charcoal-fired barbecues is allowed. The Okanogan County commissioners imposed the ban in mid-June and have not lifted it yet because the potential for large, catastrophic fires still exists.
Despite the ban, there have been several incidents in the past two weeks of people illegally burning brush and other materials, including within the Twisp town limits, on West Chewuch Road, and on the Twisp-Winthrop East County Road.
Okanogan County Fire District 6 summed up the reason for the ban in a posting on its Facebook page about a fire on Sept. 29: “Winthrop Engines responded to a report of a brush fire on the West Chewuch today. Fortunately, it was a small pile — easily extinguished. It’s REALLY DRY out there. The BURN BAN is still in effect.”
Hot spots remain within the perimeter of the Twisp River and Okanogan Complex fires, and conifer needles and other dry fuels have still been igniting, particularly when the vegetation falls into smoldering tree-stump holes, according to Joe Smillie, a public information officer for DNR.
Burning still prohibited on some state and Forest Service lands
Burn bans have been partially lifted in other areas. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has lifted the ban on some of the state lands it manages but, because of remaining fire risk, campfires are prohibited at many locations throughout northeast Washington. Visitors must check at campground entrances or with campground hosts before starting a campfire.
Even when Okanogan County lifts its burn ban, much outdoor burning requires a permit from DNR, and many types of vegetation cannot be burned at all. In general, a permit is required for any fire more than 4 feet in diameter. Only natural vegetation — not yard and garden debris — can be burned.
More information is available from DNR’s northeast regional office at (509) 684-7474 and online at www.dnr.wa.gov by doing a search for “burn permits.”
Campfire restrictions were reduced in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest as of Sept. 18. Campfires are allowed in metal or cement fire rings in most developed campgrounds, but not at dispersed campsites. People are advised to check with the ranger district ahead of time.
Firefighters continue to respond to new fire starts in the forest. The Tonasket Ranger District had two new fires last week, one more than 20 acres in size, according to Shannon O’Brien, a public affairs officer for the forest.
Campfires are also now allowed in designated areas in front-country and backcountry campsites in North Cascades National Park.
Although campfire restrictions have been reduced, fire danger remains high, according to the U.S. Forest Service. People must completely extinguish all fires — by dousing them with water and making sure they are cool to the touch — before leaving an area.
Road and campground closures
Two area campgrounds operated by DNR — Leader Lake and Rock Creek — remain closed because of damage caused by the Okanogan Complex Fire. The Rock Creek picnic area is also closed.
The areas are closed because of the number of burned-out stumps and trees weakened by the fire, which pose particular dangers in strong winds.
DNR predicts that Rock Creek will remain closed through next year’s camping season because of serious damage to camp structures. Leader Lake may open in early April if restoration can be completed in time.
Some areas in the Methow Valley Ranger District will be closed through the fall or winter because of continued fire activity and for road repair. Black Canyon Road will probably remain closed through the fall for road work to prevent erosion. The South Fork of Gold Creek will be closed until there has been enough moisture to control the portion of the fire still burning in St. Luise Creek.
Some areas burned in the Okanogan Complex Fire are also closed, including the Bobcat and Beaver Mountain areas.