Washington Fires Burn over 600,000 Acres and Close Climbing Areas

09/11/2015

Washington State fires have entered the record book this year, torching over 600,000 acres across the state, with many still burning. An unseasonably warm spring and summer caused the fires, which have led to evacuations, lost homes, and lost lives. Our hearts go out to the many people affected by these destructive wildfires.


Several popular climbing areas across the state have been affected, including Upper Town Wall of Index, where a fire burned for nearly a month, requiring helicopter water drops and a closure of the wall and nearby crags. The Lower Town Wall remained open and Access Fund and Washington Climbers Coalition worked with Washington State Parks to educate climbers about the importance of respecting the closure for their own safety and not impede any firefighting efforts. Fortunately, late August rain extinguished the fire, and the closure has been lifted. A fire in North Cascades National Park burned across Highway 20, making Washington Pass and Mazama inaccessible from the west during the month of August and led to a closure of the Newhalem sport climbing area due to instability in the slopes above the cliff. It is unclear when that closure will be lifted. Another fire flared up in Squire Creek Valley, a popular wilderness climbing area just outside Darrington, but heavy rains extinguished the blaze and climbing is once again open.

While fires can serve an important function in maintaining the health of forest ecosystems, changes in climate and in human use (and misuse) of fire make wildfires a growing threat. Access Fund is working with our partners at Outdoor Alliance to push Congress to act on the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, an important piece of bipartisan legislation to better fund wildfires on federal lands by providing separate disaster funding for fires.

Climbers should be aware that these wildfires take funding and personnel resources away from public land entities. Recreation staff are often called away to help fight these fires, leaving agencies slow to address other land management needs. If you have ongoing projects and dialogues with local land managers in areas affected by these fires, please be patient.

Stay safe out there during fire season and do your part by respecting closures and fire bans and putting out all campfires when and where allowed.