Wildfires force closures of popular recreation areas in Washington, Idaho

Jul. 14—Washington and Idaho wildfires have closed large swaths of public and private recreation land.

The most drastic was announced Monday when an entire ranger district in the Blue Mountains on the Oregon and Washington border closed due to fire, according to a Umatilla National Forest news release.

The closure is likely a first for the Umatilla, according to an agency spokesperson.

Meanwhile, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has closed a number of wildlife areas in southeast Washington in response to the ranger district closure.

Those closures include the W.T. Wooten Unit of the W.T. Wooten Wildlife Area, the 4-0 Ranch and Grouse Flats units of the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area and the Asotin Creek and Weatherly units of the Asotin Creek Wildlife Area.

"While these closures may be inconvenient to some, we feel it is the safest and most responsible action we can take to keep members of the public and first responders safe," said Steve Pozzanghera, WDFW's Eastern Region Director in a news release. "Other public lands agencies are also closing areas to the public and we support their efforts to fight this fire and make safety a top concern."

WDFW estimates the closures could last a month or "until conditions improve" and the closures will impact fall hunting seasons, although how isn't yet known.

The Blue Mountains are a popular hunting area, particularly for elk.

Early season archery season for deer opens on Sept. 1 for most units and early season archery seasons for elk opens on Sept. 11 in most Eastern Washington units.

A number of timber companies are also closing or have closed access to their lands, said Staci Lehman, a spokeswoman for WDFW. Those closures include Hancock Timber, Stimson Lumber and Inland Empire Paper Company lands. The closures are in all locations, not just Northeast Washington, she said in an email.

Individual closures and details are announced on the company's websites at:




Highway 20 in the North Cascades west of Winthrop was also closed due to fire.

Idaho closures include private timber lands

The Panhandle National Forest has closed several roads and plans to close more later this week, according to an agency spokesperson.

Current closures include:

* Forest Service Road 275, beginning just North of Huckleberry Campground and proceeding for approximately 7 miles to the junction with Forest Service Road 419.

* Forest Service Road 419, commencing at the junction of Forest Service 489 and proceeding for approximately 5 miles to the junction with Forest Service Road 275.

"I expect we will have closure orders by the end of today (Wednesday) for the Character Complex (north of Kellogg and Wallace) and the Tumbledown and Trapper Saddle fires on the St. Joe Ranger District," said Patrick Lair, a spokesman for the Idaho Panhandle National Forest.

Lair clarified that first responders will erect barricades "where it makes sense for public safety" But the Forest Service can't officially close a road without starting a legal process, which can take a day or two.

Also in Idaho, the North Idaho Timber group, which includes Hancock Forest Management, Molpus Woodlands Group and Stimson Lumber Company, is temporarily suspending access to all private timberlands offered through the Idaho Department of Fish and Games' private land access Large Tracts Program, according to a news release.

That closure goes into effect Thursday at midnight.

"The ongoing drought and hot summer temperatures have substantially increased the risk of wildfire, leading to the difficult decision to close these timberlands to public access and recreation," according to a news release.

The closure will likely last until it rains, according to the release and the closures may impact fall hunting seasons.

Additional information on the companies' public access program can be found at idfg.idaho.gov/access/large-tracts.

"While this type of restriction is not necessary during most fire seasons, this year is extraordinary in terms of wildfire risk for Idaho and all neighboring western states," Peter Stegner said in a statement on behalf of the North Idaho Timber Group.

"This precautionary closure is in the best interests of the community and the environment, and we appreciate everyone's cooperation with this request during these highly unusual times."

For more detailed information and to see a real-time map of fires and closures in the Panhandle, visit idfg.idaho.gov/fire.