OLYMPIA - The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is closing all of the lands it manages east of the Cascades to recreation due to fire danger.
According to the DNR, the closure will be in effect at least through Friday, September 11, and staff will evaluate the possibility of extending the closure as the week progresses.
The closure follows a rash of new fires that broke out across the state on Monday, September 7.
"We had a historic fire event yesterday - 58 new wildfire starts and nine large fires on the landscape, compounded by hurricane-level winds," Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said. "That dangerous combination led to smoke-filled skies and low visibility, which grounded our aircraft and limited out ability to fight the fire from the air."
"The destruction we have seen is unimaginable. My heart breaks for the residents of Malden who have seen their homes destroyed," Franz continued.
High east wind conditions are expected to continue into the week, keeping wildfire risk extreme. The hot, dry and fast-moving winds are extremely dangerous as they cause fire spread to behave in unpredictable ways and make fires challenging to get under control.
As there was no lightning yesterday and none in the forecast for the next few days, the overwhelming majority of wildfires the DNR is responding to are presumed to be human-caused. The agency has responded to 106 fires caused by recreation so far this year.
"Whenever we close recreation lands to the public, our only motivation is safety," Franz said. "With more than 300,000 acres burning since Monday, this remains a very volatile and dangerous situation. Because of the scale of these fires, our state's resources are fully deployed. We are holding nothing back. But that means we must take every possible precaution to prevent new fires from being started. That's why we've taken action."
Some areas had already been closed for recreation due to the Evans Canyon Fire in Yakima and Kittitas counties, where the BBQ Flats and Wenas recreation areas were closed, as well as the Yakima River Canyon. That fire has burned more than 75,000 acres and is 70 percent contained.
Additionally, timber harvest activities on DNR-managed lands have been shut down at least through Thursday morning because of potential fire risk caused by the ongoing gusty conditions, warm temperatures, and low humidity across Washington. All timber sales and fuel mitigation work on U.S. Forest Service lands performed under DNR’s Good Neighbor Authority has also been halted.
The DNR will announce the reopening of public lands for recreation and the resuming of timber harvest activities when it becomes safe to do so.