The author discussing historical forest maps at Round Lake location of 2003 B&B Complex fire, September 15, 2004. Also pictured (clockwise from foreground): Kermit Cromack, Jim Peterson, Benjamin Stout, Bill Hagenstein, Zybach, Wayne Giesy, and Nana Lapham (photo by Brett Morrisette, USDA Pacific Northwest Research Station).

Historic Wildfires of Western Oregon, 1765 to 2014

by Dr. Bob Zybach

REFERENCE: Zybach, Bob 2014. "Historic Wildfires of Western Oregon, 1765 to 2014,"Oregon Fish & Wildlife Journal, Vol. 37, No. 1: 33-39. [PDF_2_MB]

This article lists the major forest wildfires that have taken place in western Oregon from ca. 1765 until 2014. Listing criteria were fire size (typically, only fires in excess of 10,000 acres have been listed); human mortalities; and physical damage to human structures, such as homes, barns, office buildings, powerlines, and highways.

Yaquina & Nestucca Burns. These photos of the “Great” Nestucca and Yaquina burns that resulted from the 1849-1868 Yaquina and Nestucca fires appear in Henry Gannett’s 1902 report to Congress, The Forests of Oregon.

Lightning Fire Map. This map of Oregon lightning-caused fire patterns based on 5300 fires reported from 1925 to 1931 was included in William Morris’ June 1934 report, Lightning Storms and Fires on the National Forests of Oregon and Washington.

Table of Historic Oregon Wildfires: Summary & Conclusion


Table Summary & Conclusions

1) The western Oregon wildfire season has been about the same for the past 175 years — about 45-60 days long, generally beginning in late July or August and peaking in August or September, and ending with fall rains in September or October. There is no indication of recent or prolonged "climate change" or regional warming over this time period.

2) Almost all major fires dating to precontact and early historical times were caused by Indians or American settlers. The first historical lightning-caused fires in the region were not reported until 1927, for example, and they did not reach historic proportions. This is despite regular and predictable timing and locations of lightning strikes throughout the region during historical time; most of which are confined to southwest Oregon and the western Cascades.

3) Each western Oregon county has its own history of large-scale wildfires, with significant differences between them: e.g., Tillamook County had numerous such fires from 1853 until 1951, and little or nothing since; while Douglas County had few major fires from 1951 until 1987, and have had them on an almost annual basis since.

4) There were hardly any major wildfires in western Oregon between 1951 and 1987; a period in which these forests were the most actively and intensively managed in history, and during which time the “Keep Oregon Green” movement was very active.

5) Almost all major wildfires during the 28 years from 1986 until 2014 have occurred on federal lands and were ignited by lightning or arsonists; further, these fires were predicted by several scientists and other knowledgeable professionals more than 20 years ago due to major changes in federal land and fire management policies and had little or nothing to do with “fire suppression history” or “climate change,” as suggested by others and reported in the media.

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