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Saturday, December 2, 2023
Dec. 2, 2023

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Cowlitz Complex Fires grow over holiday weekend

Containment up to 8 percent from group of lightning-caused fires

By , Columbian staff writer

Personnel have contained 8 percent of the Cowlitz Complex Fires, dozens of blazes that encompass 697 acres within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

A lightning storm in late August rolled through the region, igniting more than 40 fires across the forest’s northernmost portion in the Cowlitz Valley Ranger District. More than 400 people continue to work on the burns.

Fire is a rarity in the majority of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, wrote Jared Hohn, incident commander of the Rocky Mountain Complex management team, in a release. This has resulted in the accumulation of a thick bed of unburned leaves, pine needles and cones, branches and logs — otherwise known as duff. When left dry and untouched, this material becomes highly flammable.

To contain fires, crews must create a control line by digging through duff until they reach mineral soil, which can be at least 5 feet deep. Hohn said crews then identify heat sources smoldering below the surface, but a duff’s depth can make this difficult, resulting in officials’ hesitancy in announcing whether a fire is contained.

Mitigating the Grassy Mountain Fire, 4 ½ miles northwest of Randle, and the Snagtooth and Spencer Quartz fires, 21 miles south of Randle, has been a persistent challenge, Hohn said. Steep hills combined with dense forest prevent crews from even getting to the blazes. Trees with root rot or those scorched by flames are prone to falling and rolling. Rocks and burning debris are rolling downhill and exiting fire perimeters — potentially igniting new spot fires.

Trails and roads near the Snagtooth Fire remain closed to the public.

Throughout the weekend, aerial units took advantage of patches of clear weather to do surveillance and deliver supplies to remote crews, Hohn said.

Several fires north of Highway 12 are “out,” including the Allen Mountain, Berry, Bertha May, Cougar Gap, Deer Creek, Silver, Skate, Davis Creek and Lake Creek fires. Select crews continue to address the Yew, Pothole and Willame fires, while others are shifting their focus to blazes south of the highway.

Fires continue to burn at Adams Fork, Jackpot Creek, Sanctuary Rock, Bear Creek and Quartz Junior.

During Labor Day weekend, the Packwood Flea Market combined with seasonal berry and mushroom activity brought congested traffic on paved and unpaved roads.

Hohn urges those driving near active fire zones to be cautious, both for their own safety and for the fire crews’.

“Wildland firefighting is generally considered to be a high-risk profession, but just the task of driving is the greatest hazard that crews encounter,” Hohn wrote on Monday.

Further updates on the Cowlitz Complex Fire, as well as trail and road closures, can be found at www.inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident-information/wagpf-cowlitz-complex.

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 Fire, call 360-208-8075 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. or email 2023.cowlitzcomplex@firenet.gov.

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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.

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