The highest priority fire in the nation is burning near Glendale.
It's degraded the air quality to dangerous levels. It's destroying natural resources. It's threatening homes.
Nearly 50,000 acres have burned and containment is less than 40 percent. Slightly more than 3,000 personnel — more than triple the population of the city — are assigned to the fire, along with 25 helicopters.
Costs of fighting the fires have exceeded $26 million and are growing.
And we're only talking about the Douglas Complex fires.
Add in the Whiskey Complex near Tiller, the Big Windy Complex 25 miles north of Grants Pass and fires burning in Eastern Oregon and nearly 90,000 acres are burning in Oregon. Wildfires have become a backdrop to summer in Oregon. Every year, they burn thousands of acres of forests, polluting our air, destroying wildlife habitat and leaving a charred landscape.
Naturally occurring fires, like these started by lightning, have always been a part of our history, but they're growing in severity because we've stopped managing our federal forests.
We're letting a renewable resource — trees grow remarkably well in Western Oregon and they keep growing and creating more fuels — go up in smoke rather than harvest trees to reduce the risk of wildfire.
Little Glendale is a prime example. The hamlet is surrounded by forested hillsides, much of it owned by the federal government. Timber harvested from the land kept the Swanson Group in business for years, but as environmental restrictions increased, fewer truckloads of logs came out of the hills and shifts of millworkers were let go.
Now loggers and millworkers alike are watching the trees burn, their value and usefulness destroyed. Instead of taxpayers benefitting from the sale of our natural resources, instead of Oregonians being able to build their homes from lumber grown and milled in Southern Oregon, they will be handed a huge bill for firefighting costs.
Private industry is losing out, too. Some of the fires are burning on land owned by Roseburg Forest Products that adjoins public lands.
We've spoken with environmental groups that oppose much of the logging that's been proposed on public lands in and around Douglas County. They believe it will harm spotted owls and other delicate species. When we've asked about the threat of fire in our overgrown, fuel-rich, disease-infected forests, they've said they'd take their chances because wildfire is unpredictable.
With some portion of our public forests burning every summer, it appears wildfire is becoming inevitable. Steps need to be taken to reduce the fuels on our forests and that should include sensible, sustainable timber harvest.
Gov. John Kitzhaber and U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley visited Glendale last week to view the impact of the fires. We hope the vision of forests burning out of control inspires them to take a look at the recent forest management legislation introduced in Congress. It would not only help prevent the spread of wildfire, but its passage would economically boost struggling Oregon counties with wide swaths of federal lands within their borders.