Southwest Oregon and Northwest California — a hotbed of fire activity for at least 20 years

map history of fires in Northwest California and Southwest Oregon
A partial history of fires in Northwest California and Southwest Oregon, 2000 through Sept 17, 2020.

The Northwest California/Southwest Oregon area has kept firefighters very busy at times during the last 20 years, as you can see on the map above.

A new fire is rapidly putting itself into that history. The Slater Fire reported September 8 grew to 89,000 acres by September 9 and has now spread to 150,000 acres. That growth, however, has slowed in the last several days.

It started northeast of Happy Camp, California and ran north into Oregon then took a left and crossed Highway 199. It has come to within about four miles of the 2002 Biscuit Fire.

If recent fire history is any indication, the Slater Fire may not even slow down when and if it reaches the Biscuit burn, and of course it depends on the weather, which has moderated this week. The 2017 Chetco Bar Fire and the 2018 Klondike Fire burned for miles into the then 17 or 18-year old fire scar. The entire eastern two-thirds of the Chetco Bar Fire was in the footprint.

Strong winds that drove the dozens of fires September 8 in Oregon are not super rare. The Klondike Fire west of Grants Pass started July 15, 2018. In early October it had become virtually dormant, but a few hot spots were revitalized by an east wind event on the 14th. According to an article in the Mail Tribune the suddenly vigorous fire was transporting burning embers that started spot fires six miles out ahead of the flaming front:

“Extreme spotting” propelled fine embers up to six miles ahead of the main fire, dropping the live ash right between firefighters’ tents and close to people’s homes.

“We even had to move our own fire camp,”  [information officer Kale] Casey said.

So if the weather this year is anything like it was two years ago, firefighters could be busy in the area for at least another month.

Slater Fire
Slater Fire, Sept. 15, 2020. InciWeb.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

11 thoughts on “Southwest Oregon and Northwest California — a hotbed of fire activity for at least 20 years”

  1. Until 1977, firefighters referred to the Modoc NF, NE corner of California, as the “asbestos forest” because it seldom burned and OT was limited.
    Scarface and Gehrig (sp) fires changes all that. Scarface was over 87k acres and Gehrig was nearly that large.
    1978 saw the Twin Fire, 23k acres.
    More fires this year including a large fire on the Lava Beds NM.
    As smoke still chokes many communities, it could be too earlier to bring up fuels management.
    With that said, we cannot throw enough water at wildfires.
    Reducing fuels on the ground via prescribed burns and the creation of “shaded fuel breaks” need to be part of rural safety plans.
    And homeowners need to do their part by proper construction, sound landscaping and general “house keeping.”

  2. Whether it’s unprecedented wildfires in California/Cascadia, off-the-chart poor-air advisories, the mass deforestation and incineration of the Amazonian rainforest (home to a third of all known terrestrial plant, animal and insect species), record-breaking flooding in Europe, single-use plastics clogging life-bearing waters, unprecedented stalling hurricanes, a B.C. (2019) midsummer’s snowfall, the gradually dying endangered whale species or geologically invasive/destructive fracking or a myriad of other categories of large-scale toxic pollutant emissions and dumps—there’s discouragingly insufficient political gonad planet-wide to sufficiently address it.
    But there’s always plenty of big business ostrich syndrome—especially by the fossil fuel industry—to maintain it.
    It’s as though our elected heads should represent the largest money interests over those of the middle- and low-income earning citizenry.

    1. Do they still let the dead wood just lay i the forest? Or are people allowed to glean out the deadwood? I know. That was the cause of the big Yellowstone fires. If it is still left and there we need to clean it up.

  3. How many of those fires were limited or modified suppression fires until they blew out ? Full Suppression using MIST tactics is NOT a full suppression effort.

  4. That’s right, Dan.
    I had just arrived on the Siskiyou NF when that decision, from whomever, was made to close Cave Jct. Smokejumper Base. This was the early 80s. Jumper Alan Owen (Mouse) kept me pretty well informed on what was happening. Mouse and I had worked together while going to forestry school, his in Missouri as I recall, mine at Humboldt.
    In hind sight, we sure could have used those jumpers over the next 30 years.


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