600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091

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August 25, 2017
Contact: Brian Calkins, (360) 249-1222

Wildfire prompts partial closure
 of Scatter Creek Wildlife Area

OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has closed the south side of the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area in Thurston County until further notice after a wind-blown wildfire swept through that area earlier this week.

State wildlife managers are currently assessing the damage caused by the fire, which flared up the afternoon of Aug. 22 in a nearby residential area of Rochester, then raced across 345 acres south of Scatter Creek in the wildlife area.

The fire destroyed several houses in the neighborhood and prompted the temporary evacuation of nearly 100 other residences. In the wildlife area, a historic homestead built in 1860 and a barn were also destroyed.

Fire crews from several neighboring counties helped to control the blaze, as did the Washington Department of Natural Resources, which is leading an investigation of the fire.

Owned and managed by WDFW, the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area provides a sanctuary for several threatened and endangered wildlife species, including Taylor's checkerspot and mardon skipper butterflies and the Mazama pocket gopher.

In addition, the wildlife area is a popular destination for hiking, birdwatching, dog training and upland bird hunting in the south Puget Sound area, said Brian Calkins, regional WDFW wildlife manager. 

"This fire is truly a tragedy," Calkins said. "We put our heart and soul into restoring this remaining piece of rare native prairie, and we know a lot of people are going to feel this loss as much as we do."

Due to safety concerns, the southern portion of the wildlife area will remain closed until the department can assess and address hazardous conditions on the charred prairie landscape, Calkins said.

Calkins said fire damage will likely affect some activities scheduled in the burned, southern unit of the wildlife area, including upland bird hunting this fall. However, the 435-acre section of the wildlife area on the north side of Scatter Creek was largely unscathed by the wildfire and remains open to the public.

Calkins noted that WDFW has conducted prescribed burns on the wildlife area to improve habitat conditions in past years, but said no such burns have been conducted in 2017.

"These are clearly not the kind of conditions where we would conduct prescribed burns," he said. "The combination of dry grass and strong winds propelled the flames straight across the south side of the wildlife area."

Calkins said WDFW will immediately begin work to restore the burnt landscape south of Scatter Creek. Based on a preliminary estimate, that work will cost more than $1 million.

"We're invested in the future of this area, and we're already starting to plan recovery efforts to protect the prairie for use by animals and people," Calkins said. "We will be putting a lot of effort into weed control and replanting."

Scatter Creek is one of 33 state wildlife areas managed by WDFW to provide habitat for fish and wildlife as well as land for outdoor recreation