WENATCHEE — State authorities said Tuesday the Department of Natural Resources would temporarily close all recreation and public access to DNR-managed lands in eastern Washington beginning July 23 due to the extreme fire danger.
“This decision was not one we made lightly. But with the drought leaving the region as dry as ever, we must do all that we can to prevent human-caused fires," Washington Commissioner of Public Lands, Hilary Franz said in a statement. “This summer is smashing all our records and leaving the state bone dry, leaving eastern Washington to face an ongoing, tremendous risk of wildfire.”
The closure takes effect on Friday.
The move comes as a popular hiking and mountain biking region in north-central Washington state is under a layer of smoke as two large wildfires continue to burn in hilly, forested areas near the towns of Winthrop and Mazama in the Methow Valley.
Hot temperatures and winds are also fanning wildfires near the towns of Wenatchee, Yakima and Walla Walla, but firefighters have secured lines around all or part of those blazes.
The Methow Valley fires forced the closure of a portion of State Route 20, the North Cascade Highway, a popular scenic route across mountains. It's closed from milepost 165 and 185, about 8 miles west of Winthrop.
The Cub Creek 2 fire has burned almost 13 square miles northwest of Winthrop. It was 11 percent contained on Tuesday. West of Mazama, the Cedar Creek fire has burned 9 square miles.
While the smoke impact eased Tuesday morning, Mazama, Winthrop and Twisp may experience periods of unhealthy and hazardous smoke as winds shift through the day, fire officials said.
The blaze closed a list of campgrounds and Level 2 and 3 evacuations are in place for areas near Mazama and Winthrop.
The Red Apple fire just west of Cashmere was at about 19 square miles on Tuesday and was 90 percent contained. The Batterman Road fire west of Wenatchee has burned almost 22 square miles and was 100 percent contained Tuesday.
In the southeast corner of the state, the Dry Gulch fire continues to burn. It was at about 111 square miles on Tuesday with containment at 45 percent.
In total, state officials say about 900 fires have burned more than 218 square miles this year.