As improved weather signals the end of peak wildfire conditions, DNR resources and strategic response prove key to overcoming challenging season
information released by Washington State Department of Natural Resources
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is reopening its lands east of the Cascades to public access effective Thursday, September 16, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz announced yesterday morning while visiting Outdoor Research in Seattle. Franz also spoke about the improved weather outlook, which signals the end of peak wildfire conditions following a particularly challenging wildfire season.
The eight-week closure was enacted July 23 amid historic heat and drought conditions, extreme wildfire danger, and a spate of large fires burning across the West that stretched wildfire resources thin. January through April this year ranked in the driest 10 percent of years since 1894 for areas on the eastern side of the state, which left fuels bone dry and resulted in a new record of more than 220 fires in the month of April.
At the time of the closure, the number of fire ignitions in the state was approximately double the 10-year average.
Since the closure eight weeks ago, conditions have improved thanks to the tireless efforts of firefighters, an expanded air fleet, and a tactical focus on initial attack, which has allowed DNR to respond to fires quickly and keep them from spreading. More than 98 percent of DNR fires were caught during the initial attack this fire season, and more than 93 percent of DNR fires were stopped at 10 acres or less, which is better than the 10-year average by six percentage points.
“After months of moving from fire to fire, we are optimistic that we have turned a corner,” said Franz, the elected official who oversees DNR. “Our ability to reopen public lands in eastern Washington is a testament to the trust and teamwork between firefighters and the public. I am extraordinarily grateful to everyone who complied with this closure for sharing in the sacrifice necessary to prevent wildfires.
“Together, we were able to turn a moment of crisis into a shared call to action and avert tragedy this summer.”
To date, Washington has faced approximately 1,750 fires statewide this year, which have burned more than 650,000 acres—significantly less than last year.
A variety of factors played into the decision to reopen DNR-managed lands, including the Industrial Fire Precaution Levels ratings, national and local preparedness levels, moisture of both fine and heavy fuels, and the 10-day weather forecast and rain totals across the state.
“We are excited to reopen state lands for hunters and other recreationists,” said Laurie Benson, DNR’s acting Conservation, Recreation, and Transactions division manager. “We ask that everyone who goes out to enjoy these lands continues to be safe and responsible.”
The reopening of DNR-managed lands does not affect the ongoing statewide burn ban, currently set to expire on September 30. The burn ban, enacted July 1, remains in effect, as more than three-quarters of Washington state remains in drought conditions.