Highway 20 is closed through the park as firefighters battle to save Newhalem and park facilities.
Much of North Cascades National Park and its adjacent recreation areas is closed to visitors this weekend because of wildfires that have shut long stretches of the North Cascades Highway (state Highway 20) and threaten the park’s visitor center and the Seattle City Light “company town” of Newhalem.
The Goodell fire, caused by lightning and detected Aug. 10, is estimated at 3,100 acres near Newhalem, on Highway 20 about 52 miles northeast of Burlington, Skagit County. The fire has burned within a half-mile of the visitor center.
Firefighters are focused on protecting the community, which includes housing for Seattle City Light workers employed at three nearby Skagit River dams, and protecting national park facilities, including the park’s main campgrounds.
Seattle City Light has evacuated the nearby company town of Diablo and reduced staffing at Newhalem to essential workers.
Park spokeswoman Katy Hooper said the fire, which started north of Highway 20, has burned down to the highway, across from the entrance to Newhalem Creek Campground, where the visitor center is located, just west of Newhalem. The fire would have to jump Highway 20 and the Skagit River before reaching the visitor center, Hooper said. The fire has already jumped the highway east of Newhalem.
As of Friday morning, the highway was closed for almost 90 miles, from Milepost 118, at Thornton Creek Road, just west of Newhalem, across the Cascades and the Methow Valley to Milepost 204, four miles east of Twisp. Other closures extended farther east on the highway as fire threatened vast swaths of Central Washington.
As of Friday morning, closures in and around the national park included:
• Goodell Creek, Newhalem Creek, Colonial Creek and Gorge Lake campgrounds, and the Upper and Lower Goodell group campsites.
• The Goodell boat launch.
• North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, on Diablo Lake, which has canceled this weekend’s North Cascades Institute Anniversary Picnic.
• Ross Lake Resort, a 65-year-old complex of cabins and bunkhouses built on floats just above Ross Dam.
• The Diablo Lake Ferry is not in operation until further notice.
Park rangers are traveling by boat on Ross Lake to inform campers at lakefront campsites of the situation, Hooper said. Rangers are helping campers contact rides as needed, because of the highway closure, she said. The only current highway access to the lake is at the Hozomeen Campground, at the lake’s north end, reached via road from British Columbia. All Diablo Lake campsites have been closed.
Rangers are also visiting trailheads along Highway 20 to assist any stranded hikers, Hooper said.
Hiking-trail closures in the area include Newhalem Creek, Stetattle Creek, Sourdough Mountain, Ross Dam, Happy Panther, Thunder Knob, Fourth of July, Diablo Lake, Thunder Creek and Pyramid Lake trails. Highway 20 is the only road access to much of the park complex as well as trailheads to the east, at Rainy Pass and other points, so hiking is sharply curtailed across the North Cascades. For updates on Pacific Crest Trail closures in the area, see the Pacific Crest Trail Association website, bit.ly/1JmUPNS.
The national park’s website included this statement Friday: “People with friends or family currently in the park — including on Ross Lake, and Pacific Crest Trail or Pacific Northwest Trail through-hikers — should call 360-854-7245 [Marblemount Ranger Station] for information on coordinating pickups. Boaters and hikers on Ross Lake are not in immediate danger from the Goodell Fire.”
“Following significant fire activity on Wednesday, yesterday’s activity was minimal,” said a park bulletin Friday morning. Fighting the Goodell Fire are two commanders, a 20-person crew, nine engines and a Seattle City Light fire brigade.