Cougar firefighters preparing for direct suppression

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CLARK FORK — U.S. Forest Service firefighters are bolstering fuel breaks in preparation for a direct suppression effort of the Cougar Fire.

“It’s pretty rugged terrain, pretty removed from any private residences, buildings, human development or power lines,” Angela Harrington, acting Sandpoint District ranger, said during a community meeting at Clark Fork Junior/Senior High School on Wednesday.

Harrington said smoke jumpers were deployed on June 30 and called in for additional air support, but they encountered snags and downed timber. However, they were able to get two bucket drops of water and one retardant drop before withdrawing.

Harrington said fires burning in Washington, elsewhere in Idaho, Montana and California strained resources, which made the Cougar Fire a lower priority.

The lightning-caused fire has grown to 900 acres.

“Fire is burning actively in jackpots of heavy dead fuels and torching subalpine fir trees,” fire managers said in a post to InciWeb on Wednesday.

Planned actions include maintaining road and trail closures, in addition to continuing ground assessments and a developing a long-term management plan. Heavy equipment is being used to improve all-terrain vehicle Trail No. 642, Wellington Road No. 489 and Trail No. 114 up to Cougar Peak from Porcupine Lake. Natural breaks from streams and rock outcroppings are also being utilized.

“We’ll get these lines in place and we’ll be ready to engage the fire directly,” said Ashley Sites, a planning and operations section chief for the Forest Service.

Poor overnight humidity recovery is not helping matters, according to Risa Lange-Navaro, a fire behavior analyst. However, she urged the community not to conflate the Cougar Fire with massive fires burning elsewhere.

There are no walls of flame or vast swaths of burned-out area, she emphasized.

“What this fire is doing is burning log to log,” Lange-Navaro said. “Every once in a while it will get underneath the subalpine fir and it will torch it off.”

Flames are averaging 2-8 feet high and it’s moving at approximately 300 feet per day at a rate of about 30 feet an hour, according to Lange-Navaro.

“It’s not moving very fast,” she said.

Detailed fire information can be found online at inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/6081/.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

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