The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) plans to conduct controlled burns on parts of wildlife areas in southcentral and northeast Washington to reduce wildfire risks and enhance wildlife habitat.
Depending on weather conditions and approval from the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), controlled burns could start as early as the first part of October on 80 acres of the Oak Creek Wildlife Area in Yakima County and 170 acres on the Sherman Creek Wildlife Area in Ferry County.
A small part of Oak Creek will be closed from Sept. 26 through Oct. 28 for the safety of fire crews and the public. Ross Huffman, WDFW Oak Creek Wildlife Area manager, said the signed closure includes about 120 acres, about a mile of secondary road, and one or two dispersed campsites off of the U.S. Forest Service 1401 road near the wildlife area’s western boundary.
Matt Eberlein, WDFW Prescribed Fire Program manager, said additional acreage identified on both areas for prescribed fire use could also be burned if conditions allow. The project areas range from grass to Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine stands. Some have been thinned and currently contain logging debris and slash.
“Controlled burns are monitored until they are out, which may not be until rain and snow extinguish the fires later in the fall,” Eberlein said.
Smoke could make its way into towns near the areas, like Naches near Oak Creek and Kettle Falls near Sherman Creek, Eberlein said. Smoke could also temporarily affect visibility on highways and forest roads at night or early morning. Motorists should use caution and watch for personnel, fire equipment, and smoke on roads in the vicinity of the burns.
“Recent wildfires demonstrate the importance of conducting controlled burns,” Eberlein said. “By burning off brush and other fuels, we can reduce the risk of unnaturally high-intensity wildfires that can destroy wildlife habitat. The goal is to reduce damage caused by potential wildfire on treated areas, provide a defensible space to contain wildfires should they occur, and enhance habitat with low-intensity controlled fire.”
WDFW is coordinating with other agencies in the areas along with qualified Washington state private contractors to provide assistance with the burns.