Sourdough Fire Information



The highway has been opened and closed repeatedly since the start of the fire so be sure to check WSDOT for the current status:

INSTITUTE PROGRAMS: All Learning Center-based programs are cancelled through 2023. If you have questions, call 360-854-2599 or email


Thank you for your support. Please consider making a donation at to help us weather this storm and continue our mission to inspire environmental stewardship in 2023 and beyond.

Media Coverage

"The Sourdough Mountain Fire," Mt. Baker Experience 8/31/23

"North Cascades Institute cancels 2023 Learning Center programs due to Sourdough Fire," Skagit Valley Herald 8/29/23

"How wildfires are impacting outdoor recreation in Washington," Crosscut 8/24/23

"North Cascades Highway reopens, Sourdough fire to burn many more weeks," MyNorthwest 8/22/23 

"Environmental Learning Center cancels programs for the rest of the year," Cascadia Daily News 8/11/22

"Sourdough fire pauses Environmental Learning Center operations," Cascadia Daily News 8/11/22

"Sourdough Fire takes bite out of Seattle’s electricity supplies,KUOW 8/8/23

November 1, 2023

With the threat of the Sourdough Fire passed, we have been allowed to return to the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. Our Leadership Team recently visited campus to assess damages needing repair before we can reopen. Significant water leaks, the radiant heating system and our large composting units are all major maintenance issues we are facing. We’re using this opportunity to repair damages as well as perform deep cleaning, test systems and work on facilities upgrades. The campus — as well as access to Diablo Dam and the road — remain closed to the public.

North Cascades Institute has managed to stay engaged and busy this Fall, reaching people of all ages through field excursions focused on mushrooms, the Youth for the Environment and People (YEP!) climate solutions program, online classes and several community events at Village Books, Bellingham brewpubs and beyond. Read all about it in a new post on our blog! Thanks to everyone for your ongoing support of the Institute and our work, and we look forward to welcoming people back to the Environmental Learning Center in Spring 2024.

September 29, 2023

The behavior of the Sourdough Fire has moderated with the return of cooler temperatures and wetter weather, though the last official update still has the fire at more than 7,000 acres and 25% containment. There will be no change in containment until significant rain or snow, known as a “season ending event.” Campfires are once again allowed in designated areas in frontcountry and backcountry campsites, but some trail and camp closures remain in effect.

Our staff were evacuated from the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center on August 2 due to the fire. But recently — nearly two months later — we have been granted limited access to return. The good news is that the fire did not damage any of our buildings or immediate campus grounds. This is a huge sigh of relief! But with electricity turned off for long periods of time, other issues have occurred. Our Operations Team have just been allowed access to survey campus and start the work of fixing broken water systems, dealing with spoiled food and compost, making safety evaluations and doing much deep cleaning. This work is going to take several months before we are able to reopen. The area remains closed to the public, but we look forward to welcoming people of all ages back in Spring 2024.

August 25, 2023

The North Cascades Environmental Environmental Learning Center is closed due to the Sourdough Fire and we have unfortunately decided to cancel all Learning Center-based programs for the rest of 2023. This has been an excruciating decision to make, but ultimately a necessary one because of ongoing firefighting efforts, campus operations and logistics, and the need to provide staff, partners and customers advance notice and predictability. We will be using the rest of the year as a time to bolster our programs and strengthen our capabilities, and we will continue to offer programs including Field Excursions, Online Classes, Youth for the Environment and People (YEP!) and the Nature of Writing Speaker Series in Bellingham. More details and photos at - thank you for your understanding and support.

August 15, 2023

We're so grateful to the hard work of firefighters keeping the Environmental Learning Center and other structures safe! THANK YOU! Due to ongoing firefighting efforts in our area—including along the State Route 20 corridor, which has closed the highway between milepost 120 (Newhalem) and milepost 146 (just east of the East Creek Trailhead)—we have decided to cancel all Learning Center-based programs through Monday, September 4. The Sourdough Fire is estimated at 2,953 acres and is 11% contained. Fire resources are making progress to suppress the Sourdough Fire, despite navigating challenging weather conditions and rugged terrain.

August 9, 2023

State Route 20/North Cascades Highway was closed on August 4 from milepost 120 to milepost 156 but has re-opened at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, August 9. We are told this may be a temporary reopening as the area continues to be active with fire-fighting operations and conditions change daily.

Update: August 7, 2023

The Sourdough Fire started with a lightning strike on July 29 near Diablo in the steep and rugged terrain of the Ross Lake Recreation Area, 7 miles northeast of Newhalem. Approximately 1,397 acres have burned so far. 340 fire personnel are engaged on the fire, including the extensive use of helicopters dropping water to slow fire spread.

Due to hazards presented by the fire, our staff vacated the Environmental Learning Center on August 2 at the request of the National Park Service. Displaced staff have been resettled with family, friends and downriver staff. We were given access to the Learning Center yesterday for staff to gather personal items and program supplies. We have pressed pause on upcoming programs through August 21.

Fire personnel are actively engaged in structure protection based on fire location and behavior, which included setting up hose lays, sprinkler systems, and preparing structures in the town of Diablo and the Environmental Learning Center. In a process known as plumbing, crews have laid lays around the Environmental Learning Center, Buster Brown Campground and Ross Lake Resort. These measures provide water supplies for protective sprinkler systems and mop-up in the event of the fire’s spread.

North Cascades National Park has closed several campgrounds, trails and most recreation on Diablo and Ross Lakes. 

Update: August 3, 2023

You may have heard about the lightning-caused wildfire on Sourdough Mountain that was discovered last weekend. The fire is currently 38 acres, burning in steep terrain along Sourdough Ridge and being fought with helicopters, scooper planes and ground crews.

While the Environmental Learning Center is not directly threatened at this time, our staff vacated campus Wednesday evening at the request of the National Park Service, and we have pressed pause on upcoming programs.

We are thankful for the level of expertise and professionalism the interagency Incident Management Team brings to this situation.

Update: July 31, 2023

A fire on the western and southern flanks of Sourdough Mountain was detected Saturday morning following Wednesday’s storm pattern. The Sourdough Fire is active in Ross Lake National Recreation Area within North Cascades National Park Service Complex. Fire activity increased over the weekend in heavy dead and downed fuels due to warm temperatures, windy conditions, and low humidity throughout the area.

Fire crews are utilizing helicopters and Fire Boss scooper planes for aerially delivered water to support firefighters on the ground. Type-1 La Grande Hotshots will join rappelers in Monday’s operations and a 23-person Type-2 Initial Attack Crew and a Type-3 Southern Area Gray Incident Management Team have been ordered.

As of today, the Sourdough Fire is estimated at 25 acres. Dry, breezy, and unstable air conditions are expected through the remainder of the week before the possibility of moisture to the area.

The Sourdough Mountain Trail to the junction with Big Beaver Trail and Sourdough and Pierce Mountain camps are closed and access across Diablo Dam is limited to Skagit Tours, Ross Lake Resort and North Cascades Environmental Learning Center reservation holders only.

North Cascades Institute staff are monitoring the changing wildfire and local air quality scenarios in close consultation with the National Park Service, Seattle City Light and other agencies. We trust in the experts we are consulting with, and have policies and procedures to keep our staff, participants, and operations safe.

The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center is located in the North Cascades National Park Service Complex, surrounded by vast stretches of forested wildlands. Fires have long been a natural component of the ecosystem here, but with a warming climate and prolonged drought conditions, wildfires have become larger, more frequent and more destructive.

To mitigate the risk of wildfire around campus, we are certified in the Firewise USA program and maintain proactive precautions including sprinkler systems, metal roofs and defensible space.