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Nov. 27, 2022

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Campers cause third fire in Gifford Pinchot; rain Wednesday slows down growth

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SKAMANIA COUNTY — An unattended campfire off the Siouxon Trail has set off a third large wildfire currently burning in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Officials hope the bursts of rain and cooler weather on Wednesday and Thursday will help slow the spread of the Siouxon, Kalama and Goat Rocks fires but expect it won’t be enough to extinguish them.

The Siouxon Fire is burning in the drainage area for the Siouxon Creek in Skamania County, an area of the forest that is largely surrounded by land scarred by the Big Hollow Fire in 2020. The fire had grown to 179 acres as of Wednesday morning and is being managed by a team from the Mt. Adams Ranger District.

“To have three of what we consider large fires, which are 100 acres or more, burning in our forest at one time is very unusual,” said Gala Miller, spokesperson for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Miller said she was disappointed to see the human-caused fire several weeks after the forest issued a personal use restriction because of the fire danger. She said the Forest Service had received a lot of questions about the closures near the Siouxon Fire because of the popular trails and hunting locations nearby.

The seasonal burn ban in Cowlitz County was extended Tuesday due to the high level of fire risk.

The largest and longest-burning fire in Gifford Pinchot is the Goat Rocks Fire which covered 3,906 acres of land as of Wednesday afternoon. The Kalama Fire in eastern Cowlitz County has grown to 432 acres.

Mark Enty, the public information officer stationed at the Goat Rocks Fire, said the rain Wednesday would have the largest effect on the brush and other small fuel sources in the forest. The smaller fuel sources help the fire jump to new trees that can burn for extended periods of time.

“I definitely think it will help make achieving some of the operation goals for the day easier because we aren’t working against the warming and drying conditions,” Enty said.

Enty said the crew of roughly 200 firefighters were working to establish and reinforce control lines that help prevent the fire from spreading to Packwood or other sections of the forest. A key part of creating those lines is clearing out the brush and small vegetation.

The combined area of the three fires is still less than a quarter of the land burned by the Big Hollow Fire.

All three fires are burning in sections of the forest that are difficult for fire crews to access, so the weather will play a major role in ending the burns. Forecasts show chance of more rain Thursday, followed by temperatures rising back to 80°F or more over the weekend.

“People should expect to see more smoke for maybe a few more weeks until we get more significant rainfall,” Miller said.

Brennen Kauffman is the government and politics reporter for the Daily News, covering topics from city council debates to Congressional races. He can be reached for story ideas at 360-577-7828.

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