The U.S. Forest Service has banned all campfires in the Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest — including in developed campgrounds and in the Pasayten Wilderness — because of continuing hot, dry weather and worsening fire-danger conditions. The ban went into effect on Friday (Aug. 18).
People can still use pressurized liquid-fuel stoves and lanterns, as long as there’s no flammable material within 3 feet. Wood-burning camp stoves are prohibited.
“This season we have seen a concerning increase in human-caused fires. Public cooperation is needed to help prevent new starts as hot and dry conditions continue across the forest,” Fire Management Officer Kyle Cannon said.
The Forest Service was also concerned by the potential for fires to spread rapidly over the weekend of Aug. 19-20. “Critical fire-weather conditions are forecast through the weekend and any new starts will have potential to get large quickly in these conditions,” Cannon said.
Okanogan County and the state of Washington banned all outdoor fires starting Aug. 4 because of the high risk of wildfire. At the time, the Forest Service, which manages land at higher elevations, kept Stage 1 restrictions in place. Stage 1 restrictions prohibit campfires and charcoal fires except in established campfire rings at designated campgrounds, but allow campfires in some Wilderness areas, including the Pasayten.
“With the milder weather we’ve had recently, there is currently no discussion of bumping up to Stage 2 in the next week,” Okanogan-Wenatchee Public Affairs Officer Victoria Wilkins told the Methow Valley News on Aug. 8.
During the last week in July, weather was cooler than usual, with a high of 79 degrees in Winthrop on July 25 and 26, but the temperature hit 90 degrees by the end of the month. After several days above 90 degrees in early August, the valley had another respite until it was ambushed by the hottest weather of the season starting Aug. 14, with three days exceeding 100 degrees. The high of 103 degrees in Winthrop on Wednesday (Aug. 16) set a new record for that date, breaking the 2008 record by 1 degree, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
Fuels in the Methow and Valley [lower Methow and eastern Okanogan County] Fire Danger Rating areas, which the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) uses to monitor fire risk, were classified as “extreme” in DNR’s Weekly Wildfire Situation Update for the week of Aug. 21.
Campfires are now prohibited on all state and private lands managed or protected by DNR across the state. Pearrygin Lake and Alta Lake state parks also banned all charcoal and wood fires in early August.
Recreational target shooting is now banned throughout the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
The industrial fire-precaution level increased last week to partial hoot-owl, prohibiting the use of chainsaws and logging equipment except between the hours of 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.
The weather forecast was for cooler-than-normal temperatures and possible thunderstorms midweek, before a warming trend by the end of the week, according to DNR.