Firefighters aim for full suppression of Cowlitz Complex Fires

Fire growth has remained minimal as thick duff layers challenge crews in East Lewis County


No threat is currently posed to the public by the Cowlitz Complex Fires, a collective name for 30 blazes throughout the Gifford Pinchot National Forest that were sparked by a lightning storm on Aug. 25. 

Currently, the fires, which are at a collective 695 acres, are 34% contained. Just three of the 30 fires remain in “active” status, while more than half are out or controlled.

According to a Monday morning update from the incident management team, there was slight growth in the 36.79-acre Grassy Mountain Fire over the weekend, the blaze nearest to Randle. It is among the most difficult to access due to the steep terrain, according to previous reports from the team, but still is not a threat to the nearby community. 

The Grassy Mountain Fire’s thick duff layer poses another challenge. Most of the Cowlitz Complex Fires are fed by ground fuels rather than trees or taller vegetation. 

Between decades of very few fires in the area and a layer of ash from the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, the duff — layers of needles, bark, decaying wood and leaves — is thick and difficult to penetrate. It will take a significant amount of rain to put these fires out, the Monday update said.

“Moisture will get rid of it eventually,” said previous Incident Commander Jay Miller of the duff layer in an interview within a week after the fires began. “But, what really gets rid of it is fire. That’s why we do prescribed burning.”

Because the rain might not be enough, the firefighters are aiming for 100% suppression. 

This requires digging down to reach mineral soil, which doesn’t burn. 

As of Monday, active fires included Grassy Mountain, the Snagtooth Fire, at 310.59 acres and the Spencer Quartz Fire, at 193.32 acres. The latter two are in Skamania County, almost exactly between Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams. 

The 8-acre Willame Fire, 2-acre Yew Fire, 22-acre Mission Fire and 6-acre Sanctuary Rock fires were contained, meaning growth outside of firefighter-established perimeters is unlikely. 

The remaining 23 fires are either controlled or fully out.

Burn bans remain in effect. Campfires are prohibited across the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and only propane-fueled fire pits, stoves and lanterns are allowed. Additional information is available on the forest’s website.

“The decision to lift or maintain fire restrictions depends on factors such as current and expected weather conditions, fuel moisture, the level of fire activity and the availability of firefighting resources to respond to additional ignitions,” stated the incident management update on Monday.

The following trails and roads are closed to the public for citizen and firefighter safety: Forest Roads 9300 and 9341, Boundary Trail #1 (from Elk Pass to intersection with Summit Prairie), Summit Prairie #2, Craggy Peak #3, Snagtooth #4, Quartz #5, Stabler Camp #17, Wright Meadows #80, Basin Camp #3A, Quartz #5B, Quartz #5C (French Creek), Snyder Pasture #80A. Forest Road 8410 is closed for firefighter and public safety in the vicinity of the Pothole Fire, and Forest Road 78 is temporarily closed between the 78 and the 22 junction due to hazardous debris rolling out onto the roadway. 

Temporary flight restrictions are in effect during daylight hours from Mount Rainier south to the Spencer Quartz and Snagtooth fires. Aerial responses to the fires must be halted or delayed if an unauthorized aircraft enters the flight restriction area. These restrictions apply to manned and unmanned aircraft such as drones. Learn more about this at 


For more information:

Cowlitz Complex Fires information phone line: 360-208-8075 between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.


Online: Cowlitz Complex Information on InciWeb,   





Cowlitz Complex Fire: A joint name for the several dozen fires across the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Duff: Layers of forest floor made of unburned, decomposing leaves, needles, cones, branches, etc,. that fuel fires and can cause underground burning. 

Contained: When a fire has been restricted to a boundary, whether natural or one that was created by firefighters digging around the fire’s perimeter. 

Out: When there is absolutely no danger of a fire’s reignition. Firefighters test this by sticking their fingers in the dirt to ensure it is cool to the touch.