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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Commissioner of Public Lands to announce indefinite closure of DNR public lands east of Cascades

UPDATED: Mon., July 19, 2021

Destruction following the Chuweah Fire is seen on Sunday, July 18, 2021, outside Nespelem, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Destruction following the Chuweah Fire is seen on Sunday, July 18, 2021, outside Nespelem, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Public lands east of the Cascades managed by the Washington state Department of Natural Resources will be closed indefinitely because of drought and the worsening wildfire season.

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz will announce the public land closure during her visit Tuesday morning to the 12,000-acre Red Apple Fire near Wenatchee.

“This is never something we want to do, but we need to keep people safe,” said Ryan Rodruck, communications manager for Eastern Washington DNR.

The temporary closure of recreation in and public access to DNR-managed lands in Eastern Washington has no timetable and will remain in effect until extreme wildfire conditions improve, Rodruck said.

The total acreage of the public land closure will amount to about 1.6 million managed recreation acres. A parcel of land near Mica Peak, a popular hunting spot near Spokane Valley, will be included in the closure.

Dragoon Creek, a quiet campground on the edge of Spokane County, is operated by Washington DNR and also will be closed.

The Washington State Parks and Recreation commission is not planning on temporarily closing state parks across the board at this time, according to communications manager Amanda McCarthy.

That means that lands under its jurisdiction, including Mount Spokane State Park and Riverside State Park, remain open. Future potential closures will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

All lands managed by Washington State Parks are under at least a Level 3 burn ban, which prohibits any charcoal or wood fires.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has already closed the Methow Wildlife Area due to the Cedar Creek and Cub Creek 2 wildfires, and may announce other future closures after the DNR announcement on Tuesday.

“We’re still figuring out what we’re going to do regarding additional, preemptive closures of all Eastern Washington lands,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Staci Lehman.

All national forests in Washington remain open, but have varying burn bans .

Spokane County Parks, Recreation, and Golf also is not planning on any closures but will continue to monitor the situation , according to Parks Special Project Manager Paul Knowles.

This is the first time DNR lands in Eastern Washington have been fully closed since the COVID-19 pandemic closures. DNR performed a similar sweeping closure due to wildfires in 2015, but it was for a very short time in August , according to Rodruck.

No significant precipitation that could improve drought conditions is expected in Eastern Washington through the end of July, according to the National Weather Service Office in Spokane.

Washington DNR hopes that the temporary closure will limit human fire starts and resulting damage as resources are already stretched thin fighting fires across the state.

The number of fire ignitions in the state is roughly double the 10-year average, and there are currently nine active major wildfires in the state, according to Washington DNR.

The bigger fires include the 71,512-acre Lick Creek fire in southeastern Washington, which is 40% contained, and the 35,591-acre Chuweah Creek fire near Nespelem, now at 35% containment.

The Cub Creek 2 and Cedar fires in Okanogan County both started over the weekend and are at low containment levels. The Cub Creek 2 fire is 8,255 acres; the Cedar fire is 5,495 acres.

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