The lightning-caused Cow Fire about 15 miles southeast of Prairie City has grown to 900 acres and is 0% contained as of Aug. 22, according to the Forest Service.

The Northwest Interagency Incident Management Team 9, led by Incident Commander Brian Goff, took command of the fire at 6 a.m. on Aug. 22. Firefighting resources assigned to the fire include two Type 1 Hotshot hand crews, five Type 2 hand crews, a wildland fire module, a Type 2 bulldozer and a Type 1 helicopter.

The Cow Fire threatens an historic cow camp and the Short Creek Guard Station, along with bull trout habitat, active grazing allotments and timber sales.

As the Type 2 team transitions into place, firefighting objectives will be to scout the fire and surrounding terrain for locations favorable for containment and suppression, such as prior burn scars, bulldozer line and natural terrain features.

This information will enable suppression of the fire and protection of resource values at risk while minimizing firefighter exposure. Structure protection of the historic cow camp and guard station are considered a high priority, according to the Forest Service.

Fire crews plan to use a combination of direct and indirect strategies to allow the forest to achieve resource objectives, primarily the reduction of dead and downed forest fuels and restoration in this fire-adapted ecosystem, according to the Forest Service.

Their actions are planned to build on 13,450 acres of prescribed burning in fall 2018 and spring 2019, the Forest Service said. The goal is to reduce surface fuels such as needle litter and dead and downed wood, increase the height of some tree canopies, reduce small tree densities and promote fire resiliency to protect communities from wildfire.

The Cow Fire started Aug. 9 as multiple lightning storms crossed the area. It measured 3 acres by Aug. 19, burning in a remote high-elevation area surrounded by burned areas from the 1998 Glacier and 1990 Sheep Mountain fires.

Fire management staff from the Prairie City Ranger District began employing a new tool to monitor the Cow Fire called the Remote Autonomous Observation System, with two cameras observing the fire — one focused on a specific section and one providing a panoramic view.

ROAS will allow 24-hour observation by fire managers from multiple devices, including laptops and tablets. Computer modeling was expected to help fire managers anticipate fire spread. Fire management staff also utilized aircraft, ground crews and computer modeling to monitor the fire.

According to the Forest Service, computer modeling by Aug. 19 showed low potential for rapid or significant growth. Factors taken into consideration included past fire scars, fuel conditions and the position of the fire on the slope.

The observed fire behavior at that time was very low intensity smoldering and creeping, the Forest Service said. 
As long as conditions were favorable, the Cow fire would be allowed to continue to function in its natural role on the landscape, the Forest Service said Aug. 19.

The Cow Fire grew from 3 acres to 560 acres by the next day, according to the Forest Service, with most of the growth in the Cow Creek drainage. An unstable air mass that allowed vertical air movement was blamed for the visible fire growth.


Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at or 541-575-0710.

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