Summer's finally arrived in the region, and public lands managers are urging campers and other visitors to be mindful of fire danger during the July Fourth weekend.
A wet and cool late spring left the landscape of much of Eastern Washington and northeast Oregon unusually green for late June. The abrupt arrival of temperatures in the 80s last week began to dry grasses, and officials fear visitors to forests and campgrounds may be deceived by conditions.
"I know our folks in the Blue Mountains are holding their breath that everyone plays nice, because it would not take much for (a fire) to get started," said Madonna Luers, spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Rangers in the Umatilla National Forest expect campgrounds to be full during the holiday weekend, in part because the Memorial Day weekend was unseasonably cool and wet in the high country and prompted some potential visitors to stay home, said Joani Bosworth, public affairs specialist for the forest.
"I think the July Fourth weekend will really bring folks out," Luers said.
Campsites on lands managed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Washington Department of Natural Resources also should be full, officials said. And because of the delayed arrival of summer conditions, there's concern visitors may not heed cautions about campfires or leave fireworks at home.
Rangers already have seen signs of carelessness.
"This year there's been surprisingly more campfires left unattended, probably because it's been cooler," Bosworth said. "We want to remind people to put out their fires completely before leaving. Coals in a fire ring can smolder for days and all it takes is a little wind to get a fire started again, and spread."
Fire danger currently is low to moderate in much of the region, but that will change as temperatures continue to soar. In the 16,000-acre Wooten Wildlife Area near Dayton, dry conditions and wind are quickly drying grasses, said Kari Dingman, assistant manager of the Blue Mountain Wildlife Area for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
There are 10 campgrounds in the Wooten, and Luers said it is one of the most heavily used wildlife areas in the state. Campsites on all Fish and Wildlife, DNR and Umatilla National Forest camp sites are available on a first-come basis.
Campsites in the Walla Walla District only opened recently, and throughout the forest, there are plenty of puddles and dirt roads that are still soft from the rains, Bosworth said.
All campfires must be in designated pits or rings on the forest and DNR and Fish and Wildlife lands, and fireworks are prohibited. The Umatilla National Forest this year also adopted new campsite occupancy rules at some developed campgrounds that are designed to reduce overcrowding, prevent resource damage and increase public safety, according to forest officials.
Under the new regulations, no more than eight people are allowed to camp at each campsite, and only two tents/and or trailers are permitted at each site.
And entry into these developed campsites is restricted between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. to those who are occupying a campsite in an effort to restrict partying or potential criminal activity, officials said.
The regulations will be posted at campgrounds where they are applicable, according to the forest. For more information about camping regulations in the Umatilla National Forest, call the supervisor's office at 541-278-3716 or visit the forest website at www.fs.fed.us/r6/uma.
Luers said wildlife officials also want to remind visitors to areas with bear populations to keep food stored properly and out of reach. Visitors also should leave alone any fawn they encounter that appears to be isolated, as its mother likely is nearby feeding and will return for it.
For more information on DNR lands, see www.dnr.wa.gov. The Fish and Wildlife website is www.wdfw.wa.gov.