The U.S. Forest Service reported Sunday evening that hundreds of lightning strikes late last week spurred more than 45 fires across the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
A storm drifted through Southwest Washington overnight Thursday and into Friday morning, blasting about 1,500 lightning strikes in the region. This weather event, coupled with strong wind and dry conditions, prompted the National Weather Service in Portland to issue a red flag warning for chunks of the Columbia River Gorge, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and beyond.
In the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, fires effortlessly developed, which is expected — to an extent. Gala Miller, Forest Service public affairs specialist, said the number of fires within the forest is unusual.
“This is new ground for many of us,” she said.
Thirty-five fires are burning in the Cowlitz Valley Ranger District, the northernmost portion of the Gifford Pinchot, according to the Forest Service.
Two of these fires are burning in South Fork and Grassy Mountain, outside of Packwood and Randle in eastern Lewis County and are considered high priority. The South Fork Fire is larger than 15 acres, and Grassy Mountain is at least 6 acres.
The Adams Fork Campground Fire is 50 percent contained, and the Carlton Ridge Fire is staffed with firefighters.
Several unnamed fires continue to develop elsewhere in the Cowlitz Valley Ranger District, growing between 15 and 20 acres.
Farther south, 13 fires burned in the Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams ranger districts.
Five fires combined in the Snagtooth Mountain area, forming one conflagration that is now estimated to have spread across more than 200 acres. Responders placed road barriers on Forest Road 93 to help crews haul in fire-suppression equipment.
No evacuations are in place, and there has been no structural damage.
The Gifford Pinchot National Forest is more than 1.3 million acres, so the dozens of fires encompass a scant amount of forest land.
The agency directed a complex incident management team to address the multiple fires Monday. Firefighting crews have worked to contain the fires using air and ground support since they sparked last week, and more crews are expected to arrive if the fires progress.
Officials ask the public to avoid the forest until crews contain the fires.
For current fire updates and restrictions, visit www.fs.usda.gov/detail/giffordpinchot/alerts-notices. The Forest Service’s fire information phone line is 360-497-1111.
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