- Associated Press - Saturday, July 2, 2016

NEWHALEM, Wash. (AP) - Nearly a year after wildfires ripped through North Cascades National Park, business has just about returned to normal.

Newhalem Creek Campground Loop C remains closed this season, as does part of River Loop Trail, said Denise Shultz, chief of Interpretation and Education for the park.

The Goodell Fire, which in August burned about 6,700 acres, was the largest of eight fires that comprised the Upper Skagit Complex fires. In total, about 8,500 acres were burned, reported the Skagit Valley Herald (http://bit.ly/290UFRU).

The Goodell Fire was the largest in the park’s history, said Scott Ebel, acting fire management officer with the park.

The fires led to the evacuation of Newhalem - the historic town owned by Seattle City Light - and nearby Diablo.

“It was just total smoke,” recalled Eric Vermeers, an interpretive ranger for the park. “Ash raining down.”

After the fire, some trails and pathways needed to be cleared of debris, including the Ladder Creek Falls and Garden Trail.

“The main thing was clearing the trees,” said Colleen McShane, Seattle City Light’s affairs and real estate manager. “We had to replace a big chunk of the railings.”

The trail was fully repaired by Memorial Day, she said.

The fire left behind scorched earth on the hillsides surrounding Newhalem, but other than that, tourists shouldn’t notice many changes, Vermeers said.

Still, the fire is something visitors have been asking about, he said.

“People associate fire with something very primal,” he said.

Although there was no serious damage to any of the buildings in Newhalem, Diablo or the North Cascades Institute, park rangers are using the fire as a reminder.

“It’s also a great teaching tool for us,” Vermeers said. “Even on the west side, we have fires.”

The previous two years have been historic wildfire seasons for the state, prompting Gov. Jay Inslee last year to create the Governor’s Wildland Fire Council. It is tasked with coordinating the restoration and recovery of communities impacted by wildfires and assessing the state’s preparedness and response plans for large fires.

The council is set to deliver its plan, including financial requests for the 2017-19 state budget, by July 1.

However, fires like the ones seen last year in the North Cascades are not expected this year, Ebel said.

Ebel said the weather is expected to be hot and dry in July and August, but less so than last year.

“It’s predicted to be an average year, so that’s good for us,” he said.

Some fires in the higher elevations might still happen, he said.

“We could still get fires,” Ebel said. “But we expect them to be like a normal year where they would remain relatively small.”

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Information from: Skagit Valley Herald, http://www.skagitvalleyherald.com

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