Cougar Peak fire

Prineville hotshot firefighters watch the Cougar Peak Fire near Lakeview on Friday

The Cougar Peak Fire, which was discovered on Sept. 7, has grown to 83,339 acres, burning about 15 miles northwest of Lakeview on the Fremont-Winema National Forest. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Management and the Incident Commander have identified areas for evacuations in the fire area.

After a light rain in the morning, firefighters anticipated fire spread would be minimal Friday, due to the moderate weather. As the temperatures ease back into seasonal norms, fire behavior will likely increase over the weekend, according to a news release from the fire incident command.. 

Area residents and visitors are reminded that Public Use Restrictions are still in effect on the Fremont-Winema National Forest, as well as fire restrictions in effect on neighboring landscapes. 

Fire danger remains “Extreme” in Lake and Klamath counties.  Extremely dry fuels and seasonal winds can make even a small spark rapidly grow into a large wildfire.  These fires can be destructive, resulting in evacuations, damage to property and natural resources, and affects public and firefighter safety.

Fire Behavior Analyst Jim Hampton said Friday that the Cougar Peak Fire and most of South-Central Oregon was subject to a band of moisture that moved  northward from California. A good estimate of the precipitation received over the fire area is a quarter inch, Hampton.

"In some years, this amount at this time of year could be considered a season ending event," Hampton said in a news release. "This season, however, is not a typical season. This area is in its second consecutive year of drought and entered this fire season in the highest classification of drought measure possible. Likewise, fuel moistures have been at or near record lows for most of the year. Just as today’s rains will not fill our empty reservoirs, it will also not automatically bring an end to this fire season"

As the next week brings sunny skies back to the area, the critically dry fuels will respond rapidly. "The primary carriers of the fire in timbered areas are the kindling sized branch wood and conifer needles and will be capable of moderate fire spread within a few days." Hampton said. "The grass component will be capable of carrying fire within a few days as well. There is a lot of fire on the landscape and still a lot of potential as well."

An emergency closure is in effect for the Cougar Peak Fire area on the Fremont-Winema National Forest, and includes parts of the Bly and Paisley ranger districts as well.

Numerous recreation sites are closed within the area, including North Brattain, Brattain Butte and South Brattain Recreation Areas; the Fremont National Recreation Trail and Oregon Timber Trails within the closure area; Cottonwood, Cottonwood Creek, Cox Pass, Moss Pass, Hanan/Coffeepot, Bear Creek, and Mill Trailheads; and Cottonwood, Clear Springs, Happy Camp, Dairy Point, Jones Crossing, Chewaucan Crossing, Marster Spring, and Moss Meadow Campgrounds.

The closure order is formally referenced as 06-02-21-10. It went into effect this afternoon and is in effect until conditions allow or December 31, 2021, whichever occurs first. There will be public notifications when the closure order is lifted.

Area residents and forest visitors are asked to avoid the fire area and related roads while suppression activities continue. Anyone driving in the area should watch for increased traffic and vehicles associated with wildland firefighting.

As of press time Thursday, Level 3 Evacuation Notices (GO NOW) were in effect for Lower Cottonwood Road north to Forest Road 3870-041 and Level 1 (GET READY) was in effect from Forest Road 28, from the forest boundary northwest to Cox Flat.