Washington’s Department of Natural Resources closed recreation areas east of the Cascades until at least Friday with fires raging across the state.
State Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz said during a news conference Tuesday the department based its decision on unprecedented fire conditions with hot, dry weather and hurricane-force winds. More than 330,000 acres in Washington burned on Monday alone, more than twice the amount of land burned during the entire 2019 fire season.
“Because of the scale of these fires, our state’s resources are fully deployed,” Franz said in a release. “We are holding nothing back. But that means we must take every possible precaution to prevent new fires from being started.”
The department also banned all fires on the 12 million acres of land under DNR’s fire protection.
The state BBQ Flats and Wenas recreation areas near Yakima closed last week because of the Evans Canyon Fire burning north of Naches. DNR said it would re-evaluate the closures later this week. Wildlife department regional operations manager Ross Huffman said he’s hopeful those areas can open up once firefighters finish mop-up duties.
He’s optimistic the DNR closures will be temporary and cause minimal issues for deer hunters as well as archery elk hunters in DNR-managed areas when the early general season begins this weekend. Huffman added wildlife area closures could be considered on a case-by-case basis.
The majority of wildfires DNR is responding to right now are presumed to be caused by humans, the news release said. No lightning was reported Monday nor is it in the forecast for the next few days. The agency has responded to 106 fires caused by recreation already this year.
Timber harvests also have been stopped on DNR-managed lands through at least Thursday morning. All timber sales and fuel mitigation work on U.S. Forest Service lands performed in cooperation with DNR also has been halted.
Franz and Gov. Jay Inslee urged people to exercise caution and avoid any activities that might create sparks, such as using any gas-powered equipment, parking on dry grass, or allowing chains to drag on vehicles. Even activities like mowing the lawn should be put off if possible, Inslee said, and Franz warned against the dangers of too many debris piles.
In another announcements Tuesday, State Parks joined DNR and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in prohibiting campfires. The State Parks ban applies to the whole state and will last through at least Sept. 15.
Forest Service spokesperson Victoria Wilkins said despite the ban, fire prevention technicians continue to find evidence of illegal campfires in forest recreation areas.
Oregon’s Parks and Recreation Department also issued a statewide fire ban on Tuesday and even closed some parks.