Latest from The Spokesman-Review
Updated 3:35 p.m. with DNR burn ban announcement.
WILD FIRES — With last year's Carlton Complex fires still heavy in the memories of locals as well as visitors and anglers, fire officials say they’re concerned that big wildfires already are popping up this summer in North Central Washington.
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources today announced a burn ban will start Wednesday, June 17, on DNR-protected lands east of the crest of the Cascade Mountains.
- Update Jun 17: Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area has banned all fires outside of designated campfire grates in developed campgrounds.
All outdoor burning already had been banned in both Chelan and Douglas counties.
DNR's Eastern Washington burn ban applies to state forests, state parks and forestlands under DNR fire protection. It does not include federally owned lands such as national forests, national parks, national wildlife refuges or other areas administered by federal agencies.
Over the weekend, North Central Washington firefighters battled a 1,060-acre fire in Douglas County near Wells Dam, a 600-acre fire east of Soap Lake, and a 6,700-acre fire near Coulee City, the Wenatchee World reports
All of the fires were contained by midday Monday, and causes were still being investigated.
"This is early for the big fires," said Grant County Fire District 7 Chief Kirk Sheppard. "We’re fighting fires now that we would normally see in August."
In 2015 so far, there have been 241 wildfire starts throughout the state. Last year’s fire season was the biggest on record in Washington, with the largest state fire ever, the Carlton Complex, destroying more than 250,000 acres. More than 1 million acres of Washington’s landscape has been consumed by wildfire since 2009.
A fire in west Spokane last week burned into the Palisades area, snuffing out trees and a trail bridge used by hikers and mountain bikers.
Campfire restrictions also are popping up.
SHOOTING — Exploding targets are officially a no-no on national forests throughout the West.
Citing public safety concerns and the potential for igniting wildfires, Northern Region Forester Faye Krueger has signed a regional closure order prohibiting unpermitted explosives on national forest system lands, specifically to prohibit the use of exploding targets.
This closure for national forests in Idaho, Montana and the Dakotas follows last year's closures by some other Western national forest and the entire the Pacific Northwest Region.
- A shooter was fined $168,000 last year for igniting a forest fire with an exploding target.
“National Forest System Lands are ideal for a wide range of recreational activities that include hunting and sport shooting,” Krueger said. “We must also ensure that recreational users are safe in their pursuits, and that we eliminate the risk of wildfires from explosive targets.”
In the past two years, exploding targets have been identified as the cause of at least 16 wildfires in the western states, costing taxpayers more than $33 million in fire suppression costs. The closure order includes all 12 national forests and grasslands in the Northern Region, covering northern Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and remaining portions of South Dakota not already under a closure order by the Rocky Mountain region.
Read on for more from the Forest Service:
PUBLIC LANDS — The federal government said today it is collecting $168,500 to cover fire suppression costs after an Illinois man ignited a 440-acre blaze in central Idaho in 2012 while shooting at an exploding target.
According to a story by the Associated Press, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the agreement after Jeffrey Kerner was target shooting on Aug. 18, 2012 on private land near Salmon in Lemhi County. As temperatures hit 95 degrees, prosecutors say Kerner’s target blew apart and ignited the blaze that later spread to adjacent federal land.
- This is one of several cases that prompted some national forests in 2013 to ban the use of exploding targets, as I reported in several stories this summer.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Howe in Boise said the settlement in the Idaho case was reached after negotiations with an insurance adjustment company representing Kerner.
Though the fire was relatively small at less than a square mile and was contained within 48 hours, costs quickly escalated as federal firefighters arrived in force to keep the flames from consuming at least two nearby homes.
Howe said the incident — during high summer, when temperatures were climbing — underscores the danger of shooting at exploding targets that produce a large cloud of smoke when struck by a bullet. Federal and state agencies across the West have enacted a patchwork of regulations designed to limit or ban exploding targets on public land, though there’s little uniformity.
Read on for more more of the story from the AP.
WILDLIFE — An aerial survey of the Elk Fire Complex on Thursday showed a number of animals and birds were killed by the wildfire burning east of Boise, Idaho Fish and Game Department officials say.
After a two-hour overflight, a U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist Scott Bodle reported seeing a total of 14 elk, 31 mule deer, one bear, one osprey, one coyote and one raccoon killed by the fire.
A number of birds were found on the ground, apparently dead of asphyxiation.
- Several other major fires are burning, including blazes that are threatening Hailey and Sun Valley.
Bodle estimated that most of the animals died in the initial 48 hours of the fire when fire conditions resulted in extremely rapid growth. Winds of about 30 mph carried burning embers that started spot fires up to half a mile ahead of main fire.
Witnesses describe it as a fire tornado, Bodle told Idaho Fish and Game. In the first three days the fire grew to more than 100,000 acres.
Most of the animals were seen in small groups at the upper ends of drainages where they were unable to escape when fire conditions turned extreme. About half of the fire area where the extreme fire conditions occurred was surveyed. The flight crew also observed many, estimated in the hundreds, live deer and elk in burned areas and in live vegetation.
The fire was started by lightning in the evening of Thursday, August 8, about 10 miles southwest of Pine. As of Friday afternoon, August 16, the fire perimeter enclosed about 125,000 acres.
The fire growth has slowed significantly.
The Idaho Fish & Wildlife Foundation has established an emergency fund for wildlife habitat rehabilitation in response to the fires. To make a donation, go to https://www.ifwf.org/donate/.
PUBLIC LANDS – Led by a ban on exploding targets issued by Northwest national forests on July 9 and bans by other public land managers, a similar ban was issued on Monday by Rocky Mountain Region Forest Service officials who cited the products enjoyed by target shooters as a major cause of wildfires.
Shooters who use exploding targets have ignited 16 wildfires since last year, including seven in the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain region that includes Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, the officials said.
The ban extends to all national forests and grasslands in those five states.
The public should understand that exploding targets can cause fires, said John Walsh, the U.S. Attorney for Colorado, said in this story by the Durango Herald.
Exploding targets are legal to buy. They are made in a small canister by mixing dry chemicals that become volatile in each other’s presence. When struck by a bullet, they emit a brief flame and puff of smoke.
- One manufacturer says its product is different and should not have been included in the bans.
- But the tests shown in the video with the Durango Herald story prove that some exploding targets cause fires.
On a national level, the U.S. Forest Service says this:
“Exploding targets pose a very real safety threat to visitors and our employees” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “In the past year alone, at least 16 wildfires on national forests have been associated with exploding targets, causing millions of dollars in suppression costs while threatening the safety and well-being of surrounding communities.”
PUBLIC LANDS — Fireworks are prohibited year-around on national forests, BLM lands, state wildlife lands and most other public lands.
That's the first rule to know before heading out for the Fourth of July holiday.
Here are more considerations from the Idaho Panhandle National Forests:
Responsible Motorized Use. Please stay on designated routes and obtain the appropriate travel maps before you go. On the Colville National Forest as well as the Coeur d’Alene River, Bonners Ferry, Sandpoint and Priest Lake Ranger Districts visitors should carry the FREE Motorized Vehicle Use Maps, available at Forest Service Offices.
- The Colville National Forest "Motorized Use Map" can be viewed online under Maps and Publications.
No mud bogging is allowed anywhere on National Forest System lands. State traffic laws apply to all motor vehicles including off-highway vehicles (OHVs) and motorcycles of all types.
For the latest information on road conditions, including restrictions, closures and construction, visit the national Idaho Panhandle National Forests’ “Road Status” web page.
Camping. Camping is allowed for up to 14 days within any 30-day period in developed recreation sites, undeveloped recreation sites, campgrounds, wilderness areas and other general forest areas. Visit the Idaho Panhandle National Forests’ “Recreation” web page to check the status of your favorite site.
Campfire Safety. Even if it’s “green,” please practice good sense by using caution with fire and smoking at all times, in all places. Drown, stir and check your campfire for heat with your bare hand. ALL fires must be DEAD OUT when left unattended and before leaving the site.
Keep it Clean to Avoid Bear Encounters! Proper food storage practices are recommended throughout the Idaho Panhandle National Forests and are required on the Sandpoint, Priest Lake and Bonners Ferry Districts. Bears often develop a strong liking for human and pet foods. Store food in hard-sided vehicles or bear-proof containers. Keep sleeping areas, tents and sleeping bags free from food and food odors. Wash up, change clothes and remove all scented articles nearby before going to bed. Wild bears avoid people, but bears conditioned to human food can be aggressive and may be euthanized if problems occur. For more information on safety in bear country visit our “Food Storage” web page.
More info: contact your local Idaho Panhandle Forest Service office.
- Grande Ronde bass fishing is dream job for guide
- Reel Time Fishing guide migrates to tap peak runs
- Groups offer reward for info on missing grizzly
- Elk hoof rot confounds state officials
- Field Reports: Slobs force decision on Spokane County no-shooting zones
- Shooters trigger early fire restrictions
- Out & About: Jennings too 'polarizing' for Wildlife Commission
- Weekly Hunting-Fishing Report
- Hydroplane group says it has funds to state CdA races
WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT — Sinlahekin Wildlife Area manager Dale Swedberg doesn't just preach the gospel of rejuvenating wildlife habitat with controlled prescribed fires — he'll let you see for yourself.
A website with an eye-opening collection of photos compares historic photos of the Sinlanhekin Wildlife Area with photos of the same locations made in recent years.
While the northcentral Washington landscape near Loomis has been improved in some ways, the most glaring observation is the increase in tree cover due to fire supression in the past 90 years. Trees are good, but too many of them clogging the landscape eliminates the habitat diversity needed by wildlife.
Fire has been around as long as life because fire depends on living things to produce the fuels fire needs to exist. A person would think that there might be some important connections developed in such a long relationship. — Dale Swedberg
Resources for learning more about prescribed burns include:
PUBLIC LANDS — Target shooters aiming at exploding targets last fall ignited the Goat Fire that burned 7,400 acres from Sept. 15 through early November and made life hell for Wenatchee region residents, according to a U.S. Forest Service report released today.
No arrests have been made, but the investigation continues.
Read on for the media release from the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
"We have not seen wildfire conditions this bad in October in a lifetime,” Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark said Thursday.
“I’m concerned that the shorter days and colder weather will lull some people into thinking it’s safe to build campfires or bonfires. We need everyone to be cautious, alert and aware of the burn restrictions.”
Virtually all state and federal agencies have extended restrictions on burning — including no fires outside of grated pits in designated campgrounds — at least through Oct. 15.
PUBLIC LANDS — No campfires will be allowed at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation area except at designated grated campfire sites at least through Sunday. See the park's announcement issued Monday:
In accordance with the 2012 Superintendent’s Compendium, Acting Superintendent Natalie Gates has extended the ban for campfires on the exposed lakebed through midnight on October 7, 2012.
Campfires in park-provided fire grates at developed campgrounds are allowed. The use of gas and propane barbeques and self-contained stoves is allowed in the recreation area.
Campfires are never allowed on the beach area above the exposed lakebed.
WILDLIFE LANDS — Wild fires continue to char and in some cases nuke forests and other wildlife habitat in scattered areas around the Inland Northwest. But the future isn't all black.
Before-after-photos at Naneum Lake (above) hint at the impact of the Table Mountain Fire, which has spread over thousands of acres along with other forest fires in the Ellensburg-Leavenworth-Wenatchee area. The fires were ignited by lightning storms around Sept. 9, 2012.
Some areas have been reopened to public access, but hunters need to check ahead with the Forest Service, DNR and Washington Fish and Wildlife Department for closures to distinct areas in the Wenatchee region.
This photo comparison doesn't look good, but Washington Fish and Wildlife experts say the damage/benefits to the Colockum elk herd won't be known until next spring when they can assess the ratio of hot-burned areas with the areas that were lightly burned or skipped-over by the flames.
The fires ultimately will be good for wildlife.
The question is whether the recovery will be measured in years or decades.
HUNTING — It's not news that the fields are dry and fire danger is extreme.
But don't let your guard down when you go out hunting or recreating. One thoughtless moment in these conditions can be costly.
Hunters, who have an especially big responsibility to be fire conscious, should:
- Drive only on established roads.
- Avoid roads with tall vegetation in the middle track.
- Never park over dry grass and other vegetation.
- Carry a fire extinguisher—or water-filled weed sprayer—shovel, axe, and, a cell phone for communications in addition to other outdoor safety gear.
- Restrict camping activities to designated camping areas.
- Not build campfires.
- Smoke only inside buildings or vehicles.
Being able to respond is essential in the first few seconds of a fire start when it is small and easily extinguished.
TRAILS — A wildfire burning near Mount Adams forced the closure of part of the Pacific Crest Trail late Thursday.
The closed segment of the trail is between the Williams Mine Trailhead off Forest Road 23 to the junction of the Divide Trail on the Mt. Adams, Ranger District, said Ken Sandusky of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
Call the district office for more information, (509) 395-3402.
The Cascade Creek fire, apparently sparked by lightning storms near Mount Adams on Sept. 8, has burned 9,800 acres. Firefighters say its only about 50 percent contained.
PUBLIC LANDS — The 350-acre fire on BLM land that prompted a temporary evacuation of Fishtrap Lake Resort recently was fairly well contained with minimal damange, officials say.
The photo above shows the edges of the fire burning up to the Farmer Landing trailhead west of Fishtrap Lake.
"Horseback riding and hiking along the trail from that trailhead should still be through unburned landscape,” said Steven Smith, BLM recreation manager in Spokane.
“So far, about 54 different fires in Eastern Washington have affected BLM lands,” said Scott Pavey, Spokane District spokesman, noting that some fires farther west are still burning. “A rough total of about 42,500 BLM acres have burned.”
FOREST FIRES — The map above from the Wenatchee National Forest shows areas off limits to visitors because of forest fires in the Central Washington area.
The closures affect hikes in prime season and hunters out for Washington's early High Buck Hunt that opened Saturday.
BACKPACKING — After reading my post this morning about fire-related closures affecting hikers in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Stephanie Akker of Kennewick emailed me the photo (above) snapped Saturday from the Colchuck Lake area as she decided to evacuate during the night to safety.
I was happy to see your article on-line as I have been scouring for more info since we backpacked out of Colchuck, in the dark, Saturday night.
Attached is a photo of the fire from our campsite on the north end of Colchuck. We day hiked into the Enchantments Saturday after camping at Colchuck Friday night. We chose to evacuate after watching the fire grow dramatically over the course of 24 hours and also considering the proximity to the parking lot.
Yes, we had to forgo our coveted permit, but felt it better safe than sorry.
Read on for her photo of Colchuck Lake, a scene that helps you understand why it was no easy decision to leave.
HIKING — Many backpackers with coveted permits for the prime September season in the Enchantment Lakes area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in northcentral Washington are finding their plans up in smoke.
Area includes Eightmile Road, Colchuck, Stuart, Eightmile, Caroline, and Trout lakes, and the Windy Pass portion of the Enchantment area in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness due to a fire burning Many Enchantment area overnight camping permits are cancelled. However, the Enchantment Basin itself remains open at this time with access via Snow Creek Trail. Please call the Wenatchee River Ranger Station for more information on which permits are cancelled.
See a photo and report from a backpacker who self-evacuated Colchuck Lake Saturday night as fires closed in.
Read on for the latest press release and details from the Wenatchee National Forest.
WILD FIRES from recent lightning storms on tinder-dry landscapes are an issue for people heading outdoors in almost every direction.
Here's a regional roundup from Mountain West News:
The 300-acre Cascade Creek Fire is the worst of the 200 wildfires sparked by lightning in Washington state over the weekend.
Portland Oregonian;Sept. 10
Strong winds pushed a wildfire first reported Sunday afternoon across more than 200 acres in southern B.C., and more than 1,550 residents near Peachland were ordered to evacuate.
Vancouver Sun;Sept. 10
Evacuations ordered as wildfire burns on Wyoming's Casper Mountain
A wildfire first reported at 4 p.m. Sunday on the east side of Casper Mountain in Wyoming grew quickly to hundreds of acres and forced the evacuation of campgrounds and dozens of homes.
Casper Star-Tribune;Sept. 10
More evacuations ordered on Mustang Complex fire in Idaho
A level 3 evacuation order was issued for residents along the Highway 93 corridor from Quartz Creek to North Fork in Idaho on Sunday, as the Mustang Fire Complex moved closer to that corridor.
Ravalli Republic (AP);Sept. 9
The Little Horsethief Fire that ignited Saturday afternoon grew quickly to 800 acres, and on Sunday, residents living on Snow King Mountain near Jackson, Wyo., were put on notice that they may need to evacuate.
Jackson Hole Daily;Sept. 10
Fire investigators believe the 8,000-acre wildfire burning in Montana south of Livingston was human caused.
Billings Gazette;Sept. 10
PUBLIC LANDS — Fire fighters have their hands full in forests and lowlands from blazes started by Saturday night lightning storms and fanned by Sunday's huge winds.
A Facebook friend in Wenatchee says the orange on the skyline is more than a little frightening.
At least four fires in the Coulee City-Grand Coulee-Almira area are prompting evacuations, with around 8,000 acres burned.
"Huge fires are burning here in Grand Coulee," reports angler Connie Mcquaid from her home at 10 p.m.
"The switchyard has had explosions — I've seen them. The whole west side of Banks Lake looks like it's on fire. Parts of Grand Coulee west of the canal are being evacuated. The air in town is unbreathable. They sky from my view is all orange."
PUBLIC LANDS — Fire danger as well as still-burning wild fires will be a major factor for some campers and hunters heading for recreation areas in Idaho, Montana and Washington during Labor Day weekend.
Smoking, campfires and use of chain saws are restricted on most state and federal lands to prevent more fires. Access roads and trails to some areas are closed because of existing fires, notably in Montana and central Idaho.
For example, the Selway River Trail, popular with hikers and hunters in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, is closed this week as fire crews clear timber falling on the route in the Moose Creek District.
No major fires are listed on the Colville or Idaho Panhandle National Forests, but fire restrictions are in place.
Despite cooler temperatures, fire danger continues to be rated extreme in much of the region, said Joani Bosworth, spokeswoman for the Umatilla National Forest.
National forest websites are the best all-hours sources for updates on fire-related restrictions.
Websites with updates on fires and restrictions include:
THROUGHOUT THE WEST
- Forest fire activity updates: www.inciweb.org
- Clearwater-Nez Perce National Forest: http://www.fs.usda.gov/alerts/nezperce/alerts-notices
- Idaho Panhandle National Forests: www.fs.fed.us/ipnf/
- Colville National Forest: www.fs.usda.gov/colville
- Umatilla National Forest (Blue Mountains): www.fs.usda.gov/umatilla/.
- Washington state lands: http://fortress.wa.gov/dnr/firedanger/BurnRisk.aspx