Season not likely to end before snowfall
Despite recent moisture — including snow in the mountains last week — that’s prompted Okanogan County and North Cascades National Park to relax their burn bans, Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz is reminding people that wildfire season is not over.
Okanogan County lifted its burn ban as of Friday (Sept. 22), but the county’s burning restrictions remain in place. That means people can have a campfire or recreational fire in a concrete, rock or steel ring, as long as it’s at least 25 feet from a structure. But field and vegetation burning are still prohibited.
With vegetation still very dry and the continuing potential for warm, sunny weather, Franz asked people to avoid starting outdoor fires to protect residents, firefighters and the landscape.
In recent years, fall fires have been particularly damaging to Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) lands, including in western Washington. “We’re seeing fires rage through wetter forests, even the Olympic Rainforest. Even though it’s been cooler, we still haven’t seen much rain, and until we do our forests remain vulnerable to wildfires that can threaten homes and fill our skies with smoke,” Franz said last week.
“This year has been one of the most destructive ever for the people of Washington. I’m urging everyone to continue their vigilance by not starting fires outdoors to keep our state and our firefighters safe,” she said.
So far in 2023, on DNR lands, 1,855 wildfires have burned 155,503 acres. While that is less land burned than in an average season, it includes two especially devastating fires, the Gray and Oregon Road fires in Spokane County, which destroyed more than 400 homes in August. The Oregon Road Fire is human-caused and under investigation; the cause of the Gray Fire is undetermined.
North Cascades National Park also lifted its campfire ban. Campfires in the park, in campgrounds along the North Cascades Highway, and in the Ross Lake area are now permitted.
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest lifted its campfire ban on Sept. 14. Wood and charcoal fires are now permitted in established fire rings in developed and designated campgrounds.
Anyone who builds a campfire must make sure that it is completely out by putting a hand in it. If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.
The lightning-caused Sourdough Fire near Newhalem grew by 1,000 acres in hot weather two weeks ago, primarily in the Stetattle Creek drainage, but fire behavior has moderated with cooler and wetter weather since then. The Sourdough Fire was at 7,377 acres and 25% containment as of Friday (Sept. 22).
Containment won’t change until a season-ending event of significant rain or snow, according to North Cascades National Park Deputy Chief of Visitor Services Katy Hooper. The fire is contained along the North Cascades Highway and near structures.
Fire crews have removed the protective wrap from the Sourdough lookout and have been backhauling equipment. They continue to monitor the fire and to use aircraft for suppression and firefighter support, Hooper said.
The Blue Lake Fire west of Washington Pass remains at 1,074 acres with 80% containment, according to Inciweb, an interagency information-management system.
Firefighters have continued to make good progress throughout the Blue Lake Fire area, particularly where accessible to firefighters on foot. Crews continue to monitor the fire, fell snags and backhaul equipment. Creeping and smoking in steep, rocky and inaccessible areas may be visible until significant rain or snow, according to Inciweb.
The cause of the Blue Lake Fire is undetermined.
The U.S. Forest Service reduced closures connected with the Blue Lake Fire on Sept. 22. The Copper Pass Trail and Stiletto Spur remain closed.