The Tillamook Forest Fire of 1933

About one of the worst forest fires in history, the Tillamook Forest Fire of 1933 in Oregon, the disaster and destruction.

THE TILLAMOOK FOREST FIRE

There isn't a more terrifying conflagration than a forest fire. Whether viewed through the eyes of a vacationer, hunter, backpacker, fisherman, or lumberman, the loss in wildlife and ground cover is incomprehensible. The virgin stands of age-old Douglas fir in the Tillamook region of Oregon, fired by lightning one summer afternoon, burned out of control to consume 2 billion board feet of timber.

When: At 1 P.M. on August 14, 1933.

Where: In the Tillamook region of Oregon 60 mi. west of Portland.

The Loss: One death. 270,000 acres of forest destroyed. Economic loss to Oregon, $200 million.

The Disaster: The forests of Tillamook were tinder-dry that August in 1933, especially in Gales Creek Canyon where a lumbering operation was in progress. It was one o'clock in the afternoon when smoke was sighted from the lookout tower high on Saddle Mountain. No one was worried. It was assumed that the lumbermen would extinguish the blaze before it got a good start, but they didn't. Regular forest crews were sent in, but the fire was out of control when they reached the canyon.

To outwit the winds of nature is back-breaking and frustrating work even for the experts, and these had plenty of help. There were fire crews, CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) workers, and batteries of volunteers that made up an army of 3,000 men. Still, the fire was never contained. Hungry flames performed their ballet of destruction accompanied by the sound of exploding trees, louder than an artillery barrage. The heat, a quarter of a mile away from the blaze, ran to 120 deg., and the smoke was choking heavy.

Sparks, smoke, and wood particles rose to 8,500' to pour a normal year's supply of pollutants into the atmosphere in a few short days. State Forester Lynn Cronemiller recalled: "In all my years as Oregon's State Forester I never saw anything that even approached this burn. The most we ever succeeded in doing was to hold the line temporarily; at times we were positively overwhelmed. There was just one life lost, a CCC boy from Indiana who was killed by a falling tree. But lumber destroyed by the blaze was roughly equivalent to all the boards and planks turned out by all the sawmills in the U.S. during the entire year of 1932." No total of wildlife destroyed was ever compiled.

Aftermath: Tillamook, the worst forest fire in history, is credited with bringing about important changes in conservation methods, new educational programs beamed at prevention of forest fires, and stronger regulations of logging crews.

Tomorrow: Many innovative safety and rescue programs have since been effected, and heavy fire-fighting equipment has been developed. Tomorrow's prospects are good for fewer fires, better control, and less loss of wildlife than occurred in the out-of-control Tillamook blaze of 1933.

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