Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Multiple wildfires likely to keep stretch of SR 20 closed through at least July

By Mike Allende

As you may be aware, the Varden, Delancy and Cedar Creek fires have been burning in Okanogan County for most of July. This has led to the closure of a stretch of the SR 20 North Cascades Highway, currently now stretching from mileposts 165 to 185, west of Mazama in the Methow Valley. Emergency responders requested the closure for safety and to allow them to stage equipment to battle the fires. The closure also is helping evacuations in the area.

Despite the incredible efforts of the firefighters, the fires continue to expand and emergency personnel now advise us that the highway closure will likely be in place at least through July and potentially longer.

We know road closures are frustrating and we don’t close them unless it’s necessary for safety. In this case, the requests of those tackling these dangerous conditions along with the related evacuations – including Okanogan Fire District and the National Forest Service – make clear that this closure is needed for the safety of everyone.

Three large wildfires burning in Okanogan County forced the closure of a stretch of the SR 20 North Cascades Highway west of Mazama.

We also recognize that the North Cascades Highway is a popular destination this time of year for travel between the beautiful Skagit and Methow valleys. The good news is, some of the most popular sites are still accessible, it just may take a little longer to get there.

OK, how do I get there?

This time of year, many people travel from the west side to Winthrop, Twisp Mazama and other areas that are easily reached once the SR 20 North Cascades Highway reopens from its winter closure in the spring. And while that highway does provide a convenient link between west and east, it’s not the only way to reach the Methow.

Typically, it takes about three hours or so to go from Seattle to Winthrop using SR 20. Getting there with that highway closed will add about 1½ hours to your trip. The most common way is:

·         I-90 eastbound for about 82 miles to exit 85

·         Take US 970 northbound toward Wenatchee

·         Continue on US 970/SR 10 for about 10 miles. This turns into US 97, which you’ll stay on for about 35 miles northbound

·         Merge onto eastbound US 2/northbound US 97 and US 97 north will take you into Twisp/Winthrop.

Alternatively, you could take US 2 over Stevens Pass through Leavenworth:

·         Take I-5 northbound to Exit 194/eastbound US 2 in Everett

·         Continue on US 2 for 107 miles, over Stevens Pass and through Leavenworth to Wenatchee

·         Take the US 2/US 97 north ramp to junction of US 2/97 and SR 28 in East Wenatchee and go left onto US 2/US 97 toward Orondo/Okanogan

·         Continue 57 miles toward junction of US 97/SR 153 south of Pateros and take a left onto SR 153 west to Winthrop. Continue for 40 miles to Winthrop.

Be sure to consult your favorite mapping app as it will help guide you where you need to go.

What’s open on SR 20?

The most popular destinations on SR 20 tend to be Diablo Lake and the Washington Pass overlook. They are truly beautiful locations with amazing views. The good news is that both are still open and accessible as they are west of the closure. You just won’t be able to go much further east than Washington Pass, including down into the Methow Valley. Also note that the North Cascades Highway is extremely popular and like most of the most popular recreation destinations in our state, it can get very crowded. Be sure to have backup plans if your preferred spot is full and never park illegally on the sides of the highway.

Remember that services are limited as you head into the mountains.  Gas stations, public rest areas, cell service and turn around points become increasingly limited heading east into Rainy Pass and Washington Pass.  Running out of gas or otherwise becoming stranded will make for a much longer, more stressful trip.

A look at where the road closure is compared to Washington Pass and Diablo Lake. Note that the unpredictability of fire means the closure points can move with little notice.

But is it safe?

If a highway isn’t safe, we would close it until it was. That said, there are fires burning east of Washington Pass and fires can be unpredictable. They can also lead to fast-changing conditions, road closures and delays. We encourage anyone traveling to areas where there is active fire activity to check with local emergency responders to see what the threat level is and also encourage people to research what the air condition is before they head to their destination.

You can also download our app for road updates, call the 511 travel information number and check our travel alerts page for more information.

Be prepared

Wherever you’re heading this time of year – but especially if you’re headed to areas with active fires – be sure you and your vehicle are prepared. As we mentioned, fires are unpredictable so road closures and delays can happen with little warning. Be sure you have plenty of gas, water, food, cell phone charger and other items you might need in an emergency. And be sure your vehicle is well maintained.

Those who are traveling in the area of active fires should be prepared for potential road closures or delays as they can happen quickly.

Closed means closed

It still amazes us that this happens, but we continue to get reports from those staffing the road closures that people are attempting to go around the closures. So to be clear:

·         There are no nearby alternate routes around the closure. There are no Forest Service roads or other side roads open that allow access. It’s closed. Closed.  You can’t go through. Closed.

·         Trying to get through a closed road puts you and others in the area at risk. There are literally fires burning nearby. You should be avoiding that, not driving into it.

·         If you go through a closure and get stuck, emergency responders including firefighters have to go save you. That puts them at even more risk and also takes them away from what they should be doing, which is fighting the fires that led to the closure.

We understand that there’s never a good time to close a road, especially a very popular summertime route like SR 20. We would love to have this route open, but safety of those responding to the fires and for the public is always No. 1. So until we get the all clear from the emergency responders battling to keep us all safe, the road must remain closed and we appreciate your understanding and cooperation.

1 comment:

JFR2LS said...

PEOPLE: "There are no nearby alternate routes around the closure. There are no Forest Service roads or other side roads open that allow access. It’s closed. Closed. You can’t go through. Closed."
Any questions?

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