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Burning into history

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Southwest Oregon fire update

Florence fire

Location

: Siskiyou National Forest, west of Highway 199 and the towns of Selma, Kerby and Cave Junction, and southeast of Agness.Acres

: 242,000.Containment

: 10 percent.Evacuations

: Illinois Valley residents are on a 4-hour notice.Structural damage

: 4 residences and 8 outbuildings.On scene

: about 2,000 firefighters.Cause

: lightning July 13.

Sour Biscuit fire

Location

: Siskiyou National Forest, west of Highway 199 and the town of O'Brien and south to near Gasquet, Calif.Acres

: 44,000, including 24,000 acres in California.Containment

: 15 percent.Evacuations:

none yet.Structural damage:

none.On scene:

about 1,300 firefighters.Cause:

lightning July 13.

Timbered Rock fire

Location

: Elk Creek drainage north of Trail.Acres

: 27,090. Containment

: 90 percent.Evacuation

: None.Structural damage

: 2 outbuildings.On scene

: 1,200 firefighters.Cause

: lightning July 13.

Tiller complex

Location

: east of Canyonville near the town of Tiller.Acres:

31,960.Containment:

25 percent.Evacuations:

South Umpqua Road closed at milepost 6. Fifteen residences threatened. Tribal ceremonial grounds and critical cultural resources are threatened.Structural damage:

None listed.On scene:

1,400 firefighters.Cause:

lightning July 12. — — — The Florence fire has blackened more of Western Oregon than any other in more than 130 years

The 241,300-acre Florence fire has burned its way into the history books.

Not since a wildland fire scorched 296,000 acres near Coos Bay 134 years ago has Western Oregon experienced a larger wildfire, according to Rod Nichols, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry office in Salem.

You have to go all the way back to the Coos Bay fire in 1868 to find a bigger one, Nichols said. But he cautioned that acreage calculations back then were not as sophisticated as those used today.

They didn't have global positioning (technology), he added.

The largest fire in the recorded history of Western Oregon was the 1865 Silverton fire, which burned 988,000 acres, Nichols said.

Other huge fires included 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 ' all on the Oregon Coast.

Of course, that was back before there was any kind of fire suppression, he said.

The Florence fire in the Siskiyou National Forest is more than twice the size of the Silver fire, the largest fire in recent memory. That 1987 blaze burned some 100,000 acres, half of which was within the Siskiyou Forest's Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area. The current fire has now burned through most of the wilderness area.

Like most fires, it is burning in a mosaic pattern, crawling lightly along the forest floor in many areas while crowning into trees in other spots.

The largest fire in Western Oregon during the 20th century was the 240,000-acre Tillamook burn in 1933, Nichols said.

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, he said.

Although the perimeter of the Florence fire has now eclipsed that of the 1933 Tillamook burn, it lacks the firepower of that blaze, he said.

The Florence fire has a lot of unburned area within that fire, he said. The energy released in the Tillamook was much larger, burning large trees.

The 1933 Tillamook burn, which wasn't extinguished until the fall rains, consumed some 12 billion board feet of mature timber, enough to build about — million five-room homes.

News accounts from that era report an 18-mile-wide wall of flame, a mushroom smoke cloud rising to 40,000 feet over northwestern Oregon and ash falling on ships 500 miles out to sea.

The Tillamook burn was started early that August by logging activity in the Gales Creek drainage in the Coast Range west of Forest Grove. The Florence fire was sparked by lightning July 13 in the Florence Creek drainage along the Illinois River west of Selma.

The Tillamook burn was extinguished by the fall rains. Fire officials expect it will take a similar act by Mother Nature to fully douse the Florence fire.

This aerial view of the Florence fire, looking south from an altitude of 7,500 feet, gives a glimpse of the magnitude of a wildfire that is now the largest in Western Oregon since 1868. Click the photo to see a larger (23k) version; use your Back button to return to the story. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli