Portion of Washington's North Cascades Highway closes as crews battle wildfires

Wildfire season has begun in Washington, and the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is closing a portion of state Route 20, also known as the North Cascades Highway, so emergency crews can respond to a fire burning in the area near Mazama.

A seven mile portion of the highway west of Winthrop closed at 10 a.m. Monday, with no official estimate on when it would reopen. The closure is between milepost 170 and milepost 178, according to the latest travel alert. WSDOT recommends travelers use U.S. Route 2 or Interstate 90 for cross-state travel. 

The crews are responding to the Cedar Creek Fire, which was sparked by lightening over the weekend in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Two other fires, the Varden Fire and the Delancey Fire, are also burning in the region according the to U.S. Forest Service. It is unclear how much of the fires are contained.

Given the dry, hot conditions throughout much of the state, experts have predicted that the wildfire season could start earlier and last longer this year, potentially even carrying into October. While Western Washington has been sparred a major smoke event so far, some smoke from fires burning in British Columbia filtered into the region earlier this month, but remained at high altitudes. 

Gov. Jay Inslee issued a state of emergency last week due to to the threat of wildfires, including a statewide ban on most outdoor burning. The Washington Department of Natural Resources also issued a burn ban before the Fourth of July.

"Washington is facing a historic drought and we have already experienced record-breaking heat. We must be vigilant in our efforts to prevent wildfires, and the loss of life and destruction of land and property that comes with them," Inslee said in a news release. "We don’t want a repeat of recent years with dangerous wildfires across the state that have destroyed towns, killed livestock and resulted in weeks of unhealthy air quality. I urge everyone to do their part to help protect our beautiful state and all our communities."

The scenic highway reopened for the summer season in early May after crews cleared the roads from several inches of snow. Avalanches usually occur in November and December, and the highway officially closed for the season on Nov. 13, 2020.

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