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News / Clark County News

Fires in Gifford Pinchot now known as Cowlitz Complex burn hundreds of acres

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: August 30, 2023, 3:23pm

Fire officials are now calling the dozens of fires burning in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest the “Cowlitz Complex,” named after the ranger district in the northernmost portion of the forest.

A Rocky Mountain Area Complex Incident Management team assumed command of the Cowlitz Complex Fire early Wednesday, relieving local crews who have worked to contain fires since late last week following a lightning storm. Though the group traditionally serves the Rocky Mountain region, teams can be dispatched to any incident nationwide.

The U.S. Forest Service reported Monday evening that more than 40 fires covered around 700 acres.

Given the complex’s size and agencies’ limited resources, Jared Hohn, team incident commander, reported that crews are prioritizing select fires based on their proximity to private property, critical infrastructure and natural resources.

More than 250 personnel are addressing the numerous fires, according to the Forest Service.

The Snagtooth and Spencer Quartz fires, 21 miles south of Randle on Snagtooth Mountain’s southern face, are the largest of the Cowlitz Complex’s more than 40 fires. Combined, the two fires are burning 449 acres. Crews are determining how to address the fires that are traveling on steep terrain.

Closures in this area include: Forest Roads 9300 and 9341, Boundary Trail #1 from Elk Pass to Summit Prairie, Summit Prairie #2, Craggy Peak #3, Snagtooth #4, Quartz #5, Stabler Camp #17, Wright Meadows #80, Basin Camp #3A, Quartz #5B and #5C, and Snyder Pasture #80A.

On Grassy Mountain’s northern slope, 4½ miles northwest of Randle, 6 acres are burning within remote dense forest in steep areas. Farther east, firefighters created a containment line around the 15-acre South Fork Fire that sits 5½ miles outside of Packwood.

The Carlton Ridge Fire is burning 15 acres near private property in White Pass, placing two homes under Level 3 evacuation orders. Crews are extinguishing and felling burning materials near a containment line.

Most fires within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest’s 1.3 million acres are small, some so slight they are unnamed. The Forest Service plans to host a community meeting next week to discuss the Cowlitz Complex.

A cool, wet front washed over the forest early in the week and eased fires. However, its deep underlayer of fungus and other decomposing material, or duff, may rekindle in warmer and drier conditions, Hohn said.

Open fires are prohibited across the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Further fire restrictions can be found on the U.S. Forest Service’s website, www.fs.usda.gov/main/giffordpinchot/fire.

For more information about the Cowlitz Complex, call the fire phone line, 360-208-8075, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. or email 2023.cowlitzcomplex@firenet.gov.

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

Columbian staff writer