USFS, DNR also relax campfire restrictions
The Okanogan County commissioners have lifted the countywide burn ban because of moderate temperatures and recent rains. The ban was lifted on Sept. 17.
District fire chiefs recommended lifting the ban. The U.S. Forest Service and the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have also relaxed their fire restrictions, the commissioners said.
The Forest Service lifted restrictions in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest on Sept. 12, meaning that wood campfires and the use of charcoal for cooking are allowed in dispersed campsites as well as in designated campgrounds. Fires are always prohibited in wilderness areas in the national forest.
“Forest visitors still need to be aware that fire hazard still exists, especially if warmer weather returns,” Okanogan-Wenatchee Fire Management Officer Rob Allen said. Visitors and hunters should be careful with all fires, and make sure fires are completely out and cold to the touch before they leave their campsite.
Wetter, cooler weather also allowed the Forest Service to lift restrictions on wood cutting and other industrial activities in the forest. Woodcutting is now allowed all day long.
DNR reduced the fire danger to “moderate” for most of the Methow Valley, including Mazama, Winthrop, Twisp and Twisp River, and Carlton to Pateros, on Wednesday (Sept 18). The higher elevations — away from the main highways — are now at “low” risk.
The lower fire danger means people can burn forest debris in piles less than 4 feet in diameter. Campfires are allowed in DNR campgrounds. Campfires are always prohibited on other state lands.
Areas from Brewster to Omak to Oroville are also at “moderate” risk. Most of eastern Okanogan County is at “low” risk.
With more moisture in the forest, the Forest Service has started burning slash piles from forest-thinning projects. Fire crews headed up to the Loup Loup ski hill on Monday (Sept. 23), where they burned 20 acres of hand piles, said Dan Robbins, assistant fire management officer (fuels) for the Methow Valley Ranger District.
The second priority is 128 acres of hand piles from thinning done over the past two years near the radio-repeater site on McClure Mountain, which will be burned the week of Sept. 23 if conditions permit.
The work on Loup Loup and McClure is their top priority, to remove wood piles that could present hazards to skiers and to provide a buffer to the communications site on McClure in the event of a wildfire, Robbins said. Those two projects should take just a few days.
The ranger district also hopes to burn piles from the Lost Driveway thinning project, which removed small-diameter trees on more than 600 acres from Winthrop to Lost River, primarily in the valley bottom. They need more moisture to burn these piles and will most likely continue even with some snow, Robbins said.
Fire managers are hoping to burn undergrowth and small-diameter trees on 210 acres in the Upper Rendezvous, but it may already be too wet to accomplish that this season, Robbins said.
The district hopes to use prescribed fire on the Lucky 7/17 project on the valley bottom near Wolf Creek. Although plans for the Lucky burn have been on the books for years, there is a very short window of opportunity between conditions that are too dry and too wet, Robbins said.
Later this fall, the ranger district plans to burn piles in the Chewuch, Mazama, Twisp River, Libby and Buttermilk creeks, and the South Summit on the Loup. Most will be pile burns; they will evaluate opportunities to burn undergrowth as weather permits.
The Forest Service uses prescribed fire to restore the forest and remove the build-up of unhealthy woody fuels.