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MailTribune.com
  • Biscuit wasn't biggest

  • Could you tell us which was the biggest forest fire in Oregon history? I know the Biscuit fire in 2002 was huge, but I believe there were a couple that were larger. A beer rests on the outcome of this answer, by the way.
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  • Could you tell us which was the biggest forest fire in Oregon history? I know the Biscuit fire in 2002 was huge, but I believe there were a couple that were larger. A beer rests on the outcome of this answer, by the way.
    — John D., Medford
    You will not have to buy the brewski, John.
    The Biscuit fire was huge, burning nearly half a million acres, but it was only half the size of the 988,000-acre Silverton fire of 1865, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.
    There were some other large fires along the coast before Oregon became a state in 1859, including the 480,000-acre Yaquina fire in 1853, the 800,000-acre Siletz fire in 1849 and the 290,000-acre Nestucca fire in 1848.
    And let's not forget about the large brush and grass fires that periodically race across Eastern Oregon, burning hundreds of thousands of acres.
    Since statehood and before the Biscuit, the largest fire in Western Oregon during the 20th century was the 240,000-acre Tillamook burn in 1933. That area burned repeatedly in subsequent fires, including the 1939 Saddle Mountain fire, which blackened 190,000 acres, and the 1945 Wilson River Salmonberry fire, which burned 180,000 acres.
    But the Biscuit will go down in firefighting history books. That lightning-caused fire was the largest and most expensive wildfire in the nation that year, with a cost of more than $154.8 million to fight.
    But fires don't burn evenly. Like all fires, the Biscuit burned in a mosaic pattern. In fact, a satellite map revealed that some 20 percent of the area within the perimeter of the fire was unburned. An additional 41 percent burned at low intensity, leaving green trees standing while clearing underbrush.
    The satellite image also showed that 22.6 percent burned at moderate intensity, killing the trees but not consuming their needles. The remainder — 15.7 percent — burned at a high intensity, leaving little more than ashes.
    Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com.
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