The Big Hollow Fire in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest swelled from 6,000 acres Wednesday to 22,000 by Thursday and the southwestern portion of the forest is completely closed to the public, according to state forest officials.
“At this time, the Big Hollow Fire is presenting an extremely dangerous situation, and we must close the forest to protect the life and safety of the firefighters and the public,” Forest Supervisor Eric Veach said in a Wednesday night press release. “Even if your destination is outside of the closure area, please consider waiting to visit the Gifford Pinchot or other National Forests until the fire situation in the Northwest has stabilized somewhat.”
Those closures include developed campgrounds, dispersed camping, day use areas, wilderness areas and most forest roads and trails south of Curly Creek Road to nearly the southern border of the forest. (See the attached map.) According to a Gifford Pinchot press release, the closure will be re-evaluated daily as conditions change and is expected to be temporary "to protect public and firefighter safety and health."
The only open campgrounds in the area are Sunset Falls and Panther Creek, and only the Pacific Crest Trail remains open. However, anyone evacuating the forest is still allowed to use the roads, the press release said.
There is also a forest-wide ban on campfires in response to the "threat of unprecedented and dangerous fire conditions." With the area's extreme heat, significant wind events and dry conditions, the press release said firefighting resources "are stretched thin across the region and nation" as firefighters operate at "maximum capacity." See the attached info box for a full list of local bans and restrictions.
"These extremely critical risk conditions make it likely unattended campfires will escape and rapidly spread. Additionally, unattended, abandoned, and other careless campfire uses are one of the leading causes of wildfire and firefighter response. A campfire prohibition will greatly reduce the number of escaped campfires, thus reducing possible COVID-19 exposure amongst wildland firefighters and other first responders," the press release said.
The Big Hollow fire is burning east and north of the Trapper Creek Wilderness. It was discovered around 4:30 a.m. Tuesday and the cause is still under investigation.
Wednesday afternoon, the Department of Natural Resources recommended a Level 2 evacuation notice for the Cougar area. The Cowlitz County Department of Emergency management said that remained in place Thursday morning. A Level 2 means to be ready to go on a moment’s notice, or to leave immediately if extra time is needed. The area under the order is from Speelyai Park east to the Cowlitz County line and Merrill Lake south to Cowlitz County line.
Nearby residents are encouraged to follow their local county sheriff’s department Facebook pages and websites for information about evacuation safety, the press release said. And local fire officials encouraged Cowlitz County residents to sign up for emergency alerts through the Cowlitz County Department of Emergency Management. Follow this link to do so: https://signup.hyper-reach.com/hyper_reach/sign_up_page_2/?id=99002.