North Cascades Wildfire and Environmental Learning Center Updates

8/31/15, 9 am

* The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center received 2.5 inches of rain over the last 48 hours, and more is expected through Friday! All of the wildfires in the Upper Skagit Complex are diminished and the Goodell Fire is no longer considered a significant threat to the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center or Diablo. The Washington State Department of Transportation opened State Route 20 at noon on Sunday, August 30, and our evacuation order was lifted. North Cascades Institute is currently working to reopen the Environmental Learning Center and assume normal operations, including the start of Mountain School as scheduled on September 14.

As Learning Center Director Kristofer Gilje remarked, “This all ended as fast as it started.”

* We still have concerns about travel in the Newhalem Gorge. Even during non-fire years, this much rain brings debris down onto the roadway. The DOT is keeping the road clear, but take special care when traveling through the Gorge. You may encounter rocks and trees on the roadway, and be prepared to turn back or to be delayed in your return. Temporary, intermittent closures may be required for helicopter and heavy equipment work on power lines and towers. For the latest updates, contact the North Cascades Highway Hotline at (360) 707-5055.

* North Cascades National Park reopened the Newhalem Visitor Center and many campgrounds and trails. For current park conditions visit,

8/30/15, 11 am

* The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center received more than 2 inches of rain on Friday and Saturday, and more is expected over the next few days. This rain will greatly slow the growth of the Goodell Creek fire and possibly end the direct threat to the Environmental Learning Center.

*The Environmental Learning Center will not reopen until the results of this storm are evaluated and we are convinced that travel through the Newhalem Gorge on State Route 20 is safe for travel. The rain storm will likely cause debris flows as trees and rocks that have been loosened by the fire are expected to crash down onto the roadway during this rainstorm. We will wait until we have clear indications about safe travel conditions from our partners along with our own observations.

8/28/15, 9 am

* A strong inversion over the wildfires in the Upper Skagit Complex kept fire spread minimal Wednesday and the first half of Thursday, but lifted Thursday afternoon and the Goodell Fire advanced slowly toward the southwest (in the Newhalem campground/Visitor Center area) and east on both sides of State Route 20 and Gorge Lake up the Newhalem Gorge toward Diablo and the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. On Thursday night, the Goodell Creek Fire was 6,716 acres and 37 % of planned containment had been achieved.

ELC hoses 082615

* Structure protection of pumps, hose lays, sprinkler systems and vegetation removal in the town of Diablo and the Environmental Learning Center has been completed. The Diablo area, Environmental Learning System and Ross Lake Resort remain evacuated except for essential personnel. Threats to the town of Newhalem and the North Cascades Visitor Center have been greatly reduced by suppression efforts and firefighters are assessing damaged trees around the structures.

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* Rainfall amounts of 1-3 inches are forecast for the mountains over the weekend as a strong Pacific storm rolls in. Winds of 20 to 35 mph with gusts of 45 to 50 mph are also forecasted. This amount of rain will likely help reduce the size of ongoing wildfires. Crews are monitoring these dramatic changes in the weather, adjusting operations to a safe tempo to minimize exposure.

* Lifting of the smoke layer has allowed fire managers to utilize aircraft to map and monitor many of the other fires throughout North Cascades National Park. While many of the other fires in the Upper Skagit Complex increased in size, they are in remote locations and are not an immediate threat to facilities.

* State Route 20 remains closed from North Cascades National Park Complex entrance sign, approximately 5 miles north of Marblemount, to Rainy Pass due to hazardous driving conditions. Debris from the steep slopes in the Newhalem Gorge continues to create hazardous driving conditions, impacting travel for firefighters and Seattle City Light personnel.

8/26/15, 2:30 pm


Fire truck at NCELC 082615

The Goodell Fire in North Cascades National Park (NOCA) has expanded and now totals 5,573 acres, burning on both sides of State Highway 20 and the Skagit River near the town of Newhalem, the NOCA Visitor Center and Newhalem campground. The fire also continued to slowly move eastward up Newhalem Gorge along both sides of Gorge Lake in the direction of Diablo and the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center.

Firefighters are implementing structure protection in Diablo and the Environmental Learning Center. The Learning Center is a hive of activity today with fire crews on site, including three engines from Darrington, Index and Concrete. Crews have begun installing water pumps in Diablo Lake and hoses and sprinklers throughout campus and surveying the campus in consultation with NOCA for vegetation removal to create defensible space. Kristofer Gilje, Learning Center Director and the Incident Commander for North Cascades Institute’s response to the wildfires, remains on campus with two other staffers to help coordinate with our partners and firefighters.

Firefighters implemented a protection plan to direct the fire past the North Cascade National Park Visitor Center and adjacent campground. No park infrastructure has been damaged. Structure protection measures are in place in Newhalem. Newhalem, Diablo and the Environmental Learning Center remain evacuated except for essential personnel. The eight smaller fires in the Upper Skagit Complex are in remote locations and pose no immediate threat to facilities and infrastructure.

The State Route 20 closure was moved to ensure public safety as the fire has moved westward. The highway is closed from approximately 5 miles north of Marblemount to Rainy Pass. Debris from the steep slopes above State Route 20 continue to create hazardous driving conditions impacting travel for firefighters and Seattle City Light personnel. Multiple trail, campground, and boat launch closures remain in effect.

* Our top concern is the safety and well-being of our staff and students, and we are investigating next-steps for displaced Learning Center staff and graduate students. We hope to have our scheduled fall programs continue at the Environmental Learning Center, but are assessing all options to adapt to the evolving conditions.

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Useful Links for North Cascades Wildfire Info


GCW 8-21-15

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8/21/15, 4 pm:  Here is info on the Goodell Creek Fire, conditions at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center and North Cascades Institute operations: 

* The Goodell Creek Fire grew from ~250 acres on Wednesday to ~3,150 acres as of today. The burning has been concentrated between Gorge Powerhouse and Gorge Dam. The map above shows the range of the fire based on a recent survey. Yesterday and today were low fire activity days thanks to cooler, calmer weather. Fire activity is predicted to rise again this weekend with the return of warmer temperatures. Latest North Cascades wildfire information:

* State Route 20 remains closed to the public from west of Newhalem through to Twisp. The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center and most park facilities remain closed too. North Cascades National Park current WSDOT travel alerts:

* A regional-level Type 2 fire team is arriving this afternoon and will take over all Goodell Creek fire-related activities, unifying command and directing new resources towards fire containment and property protection. They are experts in these types of operations and having them on-site is very good news. We are offering the Learning Center as a base of operations for any fire / administrative personnel as needed.

* Institute staff and students have evacuated out of the area and are safe, and the Learning Center is not in imminent danger. Institute Learning Center Director Kristofer Gilje and Program Manager Katie Roloson have remained at the Learning Center, safe and in good spirits. They are monitoring the facility and its different systems and we are in contact with them frequently. While it is smokey outside, interior spaces have been kept smoke-free. Electricity, internet and phones returned to the Learning Center today at 3 pm.

* Yesterday North Cascades Institute made the hard decision to cancel the weekend Anniversary Celebration Picnic and all related activities. Skagit Tours are cancelled through Monday, and we are currently assessing the viability of all other upcoming programs. Staff are looking ahead to the next several weeks of programs, trainings, graduate program activities, etc to create contingency plans.

* Questions relating to Institute staff, students, programs or other related topics can be directed to our main office at or (360) 854-2599.

Anniversary Celebration Picnic Cancelled

8/20/15We regretfully have decided to cancel our Anniversary Celebration Picnic and all related activities at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center on Saturday and Sunday, August 22-23.

The Goodell Creek Fire burning near Newhalem unexpectedly grew yesterday, State Route 20 was closed down and the decision was made to evacuate the Learning Center as a precaution. The Learning Center isn’t in imminent danger and all of our staff, graduate students and guests were able to leave the area safely. With this said, there are many uncertainties that we are actively monitoring and conditions in the upper Skagit Valley are uncomfortably smokey.

We also feel it is not appropriate to host a celebration at this time as we are deeply saddened by the loss of life of three firefighters in Twisp yesterday, and by the injuries sustained by four others. We send our condolences to all of the family and friends of those impacted by these traumatic wildfires.

Our focus at North Cascades Institute is making sure that our displaced staff and graduate students are taken care of and to provide any assistance we can to our partners in the National Park Service, Seattle City Light and US Forest Service.

We still hope to celebrate the milestones of the Learning Center’s 10th anniversary and Mountain School’s 25th anniversary and we will keep you posted as plans progress.

~ North Cascades Institute staff and board

North Cascades Environmental Learning Center evacuated as Goodell Creek Fire grows, State Route 20 closed

8/19/15 3:30 pm: We received notice that Highway 20 has been closed by the Washington State Department of Transportation at milepost 118 at Thornton Creek near Newhalem due to complications with a wildfire in the area. There is no passage across the North Cascades Highway at this time. The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center and town of Diablo are being evacuated to the east as a precautionary measure. We have cancelled all programs at the Learning Center for Thursday 8/20 and Friday 8/21 including Skagit Tours and Base Camp.  

We are closely monitoring the situation to decide whether our scheduled Anniversary Picnic Celebration at the Learning Center on Sunday will occur; we’ll announce information on our website at and on social media as things develop.

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