From staff reports
The Washington Department of Natural Resources plans to reopen 1.6 million acres of Eastern Washington lands closed since mid-July due to wildfire risk on Thursday. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will also reopen 700,000 acres of its lands closed to overnight use the same day.
Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz announce the reopening Wednesday, which will go into effect Thursday. Franz and recreation leaders will also deliver an update on the state of the wildfire season as improved weather signals the end of peak wildfire conditions.
According to a DNR news release, the decision was made following Labor Day weekend which saw no major wildfires start. That’s in stark contrast to last year, when more than 500,000 acres burned in less than 36 hours. A statewide burn ban remains in effect, set to expire Sept. 30.
Firefighters have battled some 1,750 fires that have burned more than 650,000 acres, according to the agency. A drought, record-setting heat and wildfires prompted the closure of large swaths of public land this summer. In addition to the DNR land closures, the WDFW closed 700,000 acres of its land to night access in July.
WDFW will also reopen those lands Thursday, in advance of most hunting seasons.
“We’re excited to reopen WDFW-managed lands in Eastern Washington to overnight use in advance of most hunting seasons,” said Cynthia Wilkerson, lands division manager, in a news release. “This has been another bad fire year, and we have appreciated the public’s help protecting wildlife habitat and public safety. We are lifting restrictions on camping in many areas, but there is still a risk of wildfire, and we urge people to obey burn bans and take proper precautions.”
Agency spokeswoman Staci Lehman said she’s fielded “a lot of calls from hunters prior to the announcement, so this is great news.”
The only wildlife area in Eastern Washington that remains closed until further notice is the Oak Creek Wildlife Area Unit. Access to campgrounds in the Methow Unit of the Methow Wildlife Area will reopen Friday when the U.S. Forest Service plans to reopen East and West Chewuch roads.
An emergency order issued in late June is still in effect and enforced on WDFW-managed lands east of the Cascades through the end of September, according to an agency news release.
The order prohibits:
- Fires or campfires, including those in fire rings. Personal camp stoves and lanterns fueled by propane, liquid petroleum, or liquid petroleum gas are allowed.
- Smoking, except in an enclosed vehicle.
- The discharge of firearms for target-shooting or other purposes by anyone not engaged in lawful hunting.
- Welding and operating chainsaws, including the use of an acetylene torch or other open flame.
- Operating a motor vehicle away from developed roads. Parking is permitted within designated parking areas, including developed campgrounds and trailheads; and in areas without vegetation that are within 10 feet of roadways.
Members of the public engaged in these high-risk activities will be ticketed as WDFW enforcement officers will be applying a zero-tolerance approach.
For the latest information on fires in Washington, visit the Department of Natural Resources Fire Dashboard.
Alan Liere contributed reporting.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.