Underlining the critically dry and dangerous fire conditions across much of the Northwest, an entire national forest spanning two states has just been temporarily shut down to all public access.
Managers of the Umatilla National Forest, which stretches from Spray and Kimberly in Oregon to Anatone in Washington, say “persistent extreme hot and dry conditions, active large wildfires, limited firefighting resources and concern for public safety” led to today’s decision, which was effective immediately.
“Conditions have created an unprecedented potential for extreme fire spread and intensity,” they worry.
Rangers will be contacting campers and others throughout the 1.4-million-acre/2,200-square-mile forest in the Blue Mountains to inform them of the order which prohibits the public from “entering any part of Umatilla National Forest at any time, including National Forest lands, roads, trails and recreational facilities.”
State, US and county roads remain open.
No major hunts are open at this time, but fall bear begins August 1 and Oregon’s deer and elk archery seasons start late in the month. The forest also offers dispersed angling for trout in small streams and scattered lakes.
The total forest shutdown follows the closure of the state border-straddling Pomeroy Ranger District, the Umatilla’s northernmost, last week.
In response, ODFW yesterday afternoon initially announced that two campgrounds on its nearby Wenaha Wildlife Area, Griz Flats and Headquarters, were closed, and this afternoon they closed the whole wildlife area.
During a WDFW Fish and Wildlife Commission Wildlife Committee meeting today, Director Kelly Susewind told members to expect a decision next week on agency lands and how they’re managed in the face of Governor Inslee’s drought declaration earlier this week and continuing high fire danger.
All of Oregon and two-thirds of Washington are in moderate to exceptional drought, according to weekly drought monitoring.
“There are 15 large wildfires burning in 391,062 acres across the Pacific NW w/5,698 firefighters addressing the fires. Please don’t add stress to this alarming situation by starting human-caused fires!” tweeted regional national forest managers this morning.
It’s been reported that an illegal burn is suspected of sparking this week’s Red Apple Fire near Wenatchee and which continues to burn to the north up the Columbia.