Ruth’s Aunt Cleta married in Missouri and emigrated to Oregon. It was from Cleta and her husband Homer that I learned about The Tillamook Burn.
Also known as the six-year jinx, the Tillamook Burn commenced in 1933. Before that the forests east of their town were logged. Timber harvesting and jobs were the focus before the first fire. This was, after all, during The Depression. On August 14 of that year, a logging company manager ceased cutting operations due to extreme fire danger. One canyon crew didn’t hear about it and dragged a log over another causing a spark that ignited a forest fire. The film in the Tillamook Forest Center about the fire that ensued says that it caused a roar like an earthquake and ash fell on the decks of ships 500 miles out to sea. The 1933 fire raged until September when fog and rain finally rolled in and helped to smother it. A charred landscape full of snags, dead or dying trees that were still standing, remained. Snags made it hard for the forest to regenerate in a natural way.
Fires repeated every 6 years after that. The 1939 fire burned 190,000 acres. The devastation from 1945’s fire, the best known because it affected travel through the forest, could still be seen in the 1970s. It was caused by a tossed cigarette. The 1951 fire was the most contained because the focus on logging was shifting to conservation. Only 32,000 acres burned. The total acreage destroyed in the 4 forest fires was 355,000. One of the largest reforestation efforts in the world began. A billion seeds were scattered and 72 million seedlings were planted. The recovering Tillamook State Forest was declared 45 years ago.
Today a drive through this forest is thrilling because everyone sees the greenest, most incredibly beautiful trees and vegetation on Planet Earth. Out of disaster came both knowledge and healing. In June of this year a prescribed fire burned only 60 acres of the Tillamook State Forest. It was controlled so it wouldn’t spread. About halfway through this incredible forest, a Center has been built along the Wilson River to provide access to trails and inform travelers about both The Tillamook Burn and the efforts that created today’s lush growth. When we were there last Sunday, wild foxglove flowers were everywhere and the Tillamook Forest Center was full of families.