Tillamook Burn

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Aerial view of one of the fires in August 1933 View of Tillamook Fire, Oregon from airplane - NARA - 299308.jpg
Aerial view of one of the fires in August 1933

The Tillamook Burn was a series of forest fires in the Northern Oregon Coast Range of Oregon in the United States that destroyed a total area of 350,000 acres (1,400 km2) of old growth timber in what is now known as the Tillamook State Forest. There were four wildfires in this series, they spanned the years of 1933–1951. By association, the name Tillamook Burn also refers to the location of these fires. This event is an important part of the local history of Oregon.

Northern Oregon Coast Range mountain in United States of America

The Northern Oregon Coast Range is the northern section of the Oregon Coast Range, in the Pacific Coast Ranges physiographic region, located in the northwest portion of the state of Oregon, United States. This section of the mountain range, part of the Pacific Coast Ranges, contains peaks as high as 3,710 feet (1,131 m) for Rogers Peak. Forests in these mountains are considered to be some of the most productive timber land in the world. The Central Oregon Coast Range is directly south of this section with the Southern Oregon Coast Range beyond the central range.

Oregon State of the United States of America

Oregon is a state in the Pacific Northwest region on the West Coast of the United States. The Columbia River delineates much of Oregon's northern boundary with Washington, while the Snake River delineates much of its eastern boundary with Idaho. The parallel 42° north delineates the southern boundary with California and Nevada. Oregon is one of only three states of the contiguous United States to have a coastline on the Pacific Ocean.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.


The Tillamook burn photographed in 1941 Tillamookburn.jpg
The Tillamook burn photographed in 1941

First fire (1933)

The first was started in the Gales Creek Canyon on August 14, 1933, when a steel cable dragging a fallen Douglas fir rubbed against the dry bark of a wind-fallen snag. The snag burst into flame, and the wildfire that grew out of this burned 350,000 acres (1,400 km2) before it was extinguished by seasonal rains on September 5. [1] An oppressive, acrid smoke filled the neighboring valleys; ashes, and cinders, and the charred needles of trees fell in the streets of Tillamook; and debris from the fire reached ships 500 miles (800 km) at sea. The loss in processed lumber was estimated to have been $442.4 million in contemporary (1933) dollars—a serious loss not only to the timber industry at the time, but also to a nation struggling with the Great Depression. Salvage operations were immediately begun to harvest usable portions of the burned wilderness. A Civilian Conservation Corps member was the only known human casualty of fighting the fire. [1]

Douglas fir species of tree

Pseudotsuga menziesii is an evergreen conifer species in the pine family, Pinaceae. It is native to western North America and is known as Douglas fir, Douglas-fir, Oregon pine, and Columbian pine. There are two varieties: coast Douglas-fir, and Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir.

Snag (ecology) standing, dead or dying tree

In forest ecology, a snag refers to a standing, dead or dying tree, often missing a top or most of the smaller branches. In freshwater ecology it refers to trees, branches, and other pieces of naturally occurring wood found sunken in rivers and streams; it is also known as coarse woody debris. When used in manufacturing, especially in Scandinavia, they are often called "dead wood" and in Finland "kelo wood".

Tillamook, Oregon City in Oregon, United States

The city of Tillamook is the county seat of Tillamook County, Oregon, United States. The city is located on the southeast end of Tillamook Bay on the Pacific Ocean. The population was 4,935 at the 2010 census.

The speed with which a forest fire can spread in heavy fuels under the most hazardous conditions is well illustrated by this fire. From August 14 at 1 p.m. until the early morning of August 24 the fire had burned about 63 square miles (160 km2) and it appeared that it might be brought under control soon. Thus, for over 10 days it had burned at an average rate of about 6 square miles (16 km2) a day. On August 24, the humidity dropped rapidly to 26 percent and hot gale force winds from the east sprang up. During the next 20 hours of August 24 and 25 the fire burned over an additional 420 square miles (1,100 km2), or at a rate of 21 square miles (54 km2) per hour along a 15-mile (24 km) front. The fire was stopped only by the fact that the wind ceased and a thick, wet blanket of fog drifted in from the ocean. [2]

Second fire (1939)

The second fire was started in 1939, allegedly by another logging operation. It burned 190,000 acres (770 km2) before being extinguished, and was contained within the bounds of the earlier fire.

Third fire (1945)

A third fire started on the morning of July 9, 1945, near the Salmonberry River, and was joined two days later by a second blaze on the Wilson River, started by a discarded cigarette. This fire burned 180,000 acres (730 km2) before it was put out. The cause of the blaze on the Salmonberry River was mysterious, and many believed it had been set by an incendiary balloon launched by the Japanese (due to the fire occurring in the waning days of World War II), which had been carried to Oregon by the jet stream.

Salmonberry River river in the United States of America

The Salmonberry River is a tributary of the Nehalem River, about 20 miles (32 km) long, in northwest Oregon in the United States. It drains a remote unpopulated area of the Northern Oregon Coast Range in the Tillamook State Forest about 65 miles (105 km) west-northwest of Portland. The river runs through part of the region devastated between 1933 and 1951 by a series of wildfires known as the Tillamook Burn.

Wilson River (Oregon) river in the United States of America

The Wilson River, about 33 miles (53 km) long, flows from the Northern Oregon Coast Range to Tillamook Bay in the U.S. state of Oregon. Formed by the confluence of its Devil's Lake Fork and its South Fork, it runs generally west through the Tillamook State Forest to its mouth near the city of Tillamook. It is one of five rivers—the Tillamook, the Trask, the Wilson, the Kilchis, and the Miami—that flow into the bay.

Cigarette small roll of cut tobacco designed to be smoked

A cigarette, also known colloquially as a fag in British English, is a narrow cylinder containing psychoactive material, usually tobacco, that is rolled into thin paper for smoking. Most cigarettes contain a "reconstituted tobacco" product known as "sheet", which consists of "recycled [tobacco] stems, stalks, scraps, collected dust, and floor sweepings", to which are added glue, chemicals and fillers; the product is then sprayed with nicotine that was extracted from the tobacco scraps, and shaped into curls. The cigarette is ignited at one end, causing it to smolder and allowing smoke to be inhaled from the other end, which is held in or to the mouth. Most modern cigarettes are filtered, although this does not make them safer. Cigarette manufacturers have described cigarettes as a drug administration system for the delivery of nicotine in acceptable and attractive form. Cigarettes are addictive and cause cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, and other health problems.

The third fire was perhaps the best known, after the initial wildfire, because it affected much of the forested mountains along the popular highways between Portland, Oregon and the recreational destinations of the Ocean beaches. This devastation remained visible to any traveller through the area as late as the mid-1970s.

Portland, Oregon City in Oregon, United States

Portland is the largest and most populous city in the U.S. state of Oregon and the seat of Multnomah County. It is a major port in the Willamette Valley region of the Pacific Northwest, at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers. As of 2018, Portland had an estimated population of 653,115, making it the 25th most populated city in the United States, and the second-most populous in the Pacific Northwest. Approximately 2.4 million people live in the Portland metropolitan statistical area (MSA), making it the 25th most populous MSA in the United States. Its Combined Statistical Area (CSA) ranks 19th-largest with a population of around 3.2 million. Approximately 60% of Oregon's population resides within the Portland metropolitan area.

Oregon Coast

The Oregon Coast is a coastal region of the U.S. state of Oregon. It is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to its west and the Oregon Coast Range to the east, and stretches approximately 362 miles (583 km) from the California state border in the south to the Columbia River in the north. The region is not a specific geological, environmental, or political entity, and includes the Columbia River Estuary.

Fourth fire (1951)

The last fire started in 1951, and burned only 32,000 acres (130 km2). It was also confined within the burned-over area.


The repeated fires led some to think that the large wildfires in the area were inevitable and that the land was now too damaged from the intense heat to ever again sustain forests. [3] But determined efforts by Oregonians -- private citizens, government officials, land owners and many others -- resulted in efforts to restore The Burn, beginning with hearings during World War II under Judge H. D. Kerkman of Washington County and eventually resulting in a decades long reforestation program. [4] Much of the lands of the Tillamook burn had come to be owned by the counties of Tillamook, Yamhill, and Washington through foreclosures on unpaid property taxes; at the time of the forest fires, most of the land was owned by timber companies, which also paid the cost of fighting the fires. A measure was submitted by the Legislative Assembly to the voters to float a bond to finance reforestation, which narrowly passed in 1948.

Tillamook County, Oregon County in the United States

Tillamook County is a county located in the U.S. state of Oregon. As of the 2010 census, the population was 25,250. The county seat is Tillamook. The county is named for the Tillamook, a Native American tribe who were living in the area in the early 19th century at the time of European American settlement. The county is located within Northwest Oregon.

Yamhill County, Oregon County in the United States

Yamhill County is a county in the U.S. state of Oregon. As of the 2010 census, the population was 99,193. The county seat is McMinnville. The name's origin is probably an explorer's name for a local Native American tribe, the Yamhill, who are part of the North Kalapuyan family.

Washington County, Oregon County in the United States

Washington County is one of 36 counties in the U.S. state of Oregon. As of the 2010 census, the population was 529,710, making it the state's second most populous county. The county seat and largest city is Hillsboro.

In a book published that same year, Stewart Holbrook wrote about the Tillamook burn in Northwest Corner: Oregon and Washington:

[Reforestation] can never compensate for that tragedy we call the Tillamook Burn, as somber a sight as to be viewed this side of the Styx. There they stand, millions of ghostly firs, now stark against the sky, which were green as the sea and twice as handsome, until an August day of 1933, when a tiny spark blew into a hurricane of fire that removed all life from 300,000 acres (1,200 km2) of the finest timber even seen. It was timber, too, that had been 400 years in the making. It was wiped out in a few seething hours which Oregon will have reason to remember well past the year 2000. To this day the forest stands powerless against the threat of wildfires.

Reforestation was performed simultaneously with research by the forest industry into the best methods of growing and planting the young trees (including how to protect them from the ravages of deer, beavers, mice and other wildlife). Young people from northwest Oregon helped with the hand-planting of seedlings. Between 1949 and 1972, they planted about a million seedlings, a massive number but still only about 1 percent of the total of 72 million seedlings replanted by all means. [5] Everything from state prisoners to newly designed helicopters played a part in the reseeding program over the years. [6] Eventually the forest began to return and in 1973, Oregon Governor Tom McCall dedicated the Tillamook Burn as the Tillamook State Forest. [5]

At the time the reforestation of the Tillamook Burn began, some assumed that the forest land would, when the trees were mature, be harvested for lumber. Current environmental beliefs have questioned this assumption, and both the proportions and specific parts of this land that will be logged or conserved for wildlife are in dispute.

Pop Culture

Folk singer Sufjan Stevens references the Tillamook Burn in his song 'Fourth of July' from his album Carrie and Lowell. [7]


Related Research Articles

Nehalem River river in the United States of America

The Nehalem River is a river on the Pacific coast of northwest Oregon in the United States, approximately 119 miles (192 km) long. It drains part of the Northern Oregon Coast Range northwest of Portland, originating on the east side of the mountains and flowing in a loop around the north end of the range near the mouth of the Columbia River. Its watershed of 855 square miles (2,210 km2) includes an important timber-producing region of Oregon that was the site of the Tillamook Burn. In its upper reaches it flows through a long narrow valley of small mountain communities but is unpopulated along most of its lower reaches inland from the coast. The city where the river flows into the Pacific is also used as the name for CPU manufacturing titan Intel's first-generation line of Core processors.

Biscuit Fire

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Tillamook State Forest

The Tillamook State Forest is a 364,000-acre (1,470 km2) publicly owned forest in the U.S. state of Oregon. Managed by the Oregon Department of Forestry, it is located 40 miles (64 km) west of Portland in the Northern Oregon Coast Range, and spans Washington, Tillamook, Yamhill, and Clatsop counties. The forest receives large amounts of precipitation and is dominated by Douglas-fir trees. Activities include commercial logging, recreation, and other commercial resource extraction activities such as mushroom hunting.

Santiam State Forest

Santiam State Forest is one of six state forests managed by the Oregon Department of Forestry. The forest is located approximately 25 miles (40 km) southeast of Salem, Oregon, and includes 47,871 acres (193.73 km2) on the western slope of the Cascade Mountains in three Oregon counties: Clackamas, Linn, and Marion. It is bounded on the east by the Willamette National Forest and Mount Hood National Forest. Silver Falls State Park is located west of the forest. The rest of the land surrounding the forest belongs to the Bureau of Land Management or is privately owned. The forest is managed as part of the Department of Forestry's North Cascade District. It is the largest single block of state owned forest land in the Cascades.

B&B Complex fires

The B&B fire burned for nearly 35 days.

Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad transport company

The Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad (POTB) is a 101-mile (163 km) shortline railroad in northwestern Oregon in the United States. Purchased from the Southern Pacific Transportation Company in 1990 by the Port of Tillamook Bay, the railroad was used to transport lumber and agricultural products over the Northern Oregon Coast Range between the Oregon Coast and the Portland area until heavily damaged in a 2007 storm. The Port of Tillamook Bay began operating the unincorporated railroad on March 27, 1986, but the tracks were originally constructed by Oregon judge George R. Bagley and others in 1906. The railroad's main line, no longer in use due to storm damage, runs between Hillsboro and Tillamook.

2014 Washington wildfires

The 2014 Washington wildfires were a series of 1,480 wildfires that burned 386,972 acres (1,566 km2) over the course of 2014. The first occurred primarily on the east side of the Cascade Range in Chelan and Okanogan counties. The fires burned private land, state land, and within the Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests, ultimately covering over 350,000 acres. The first fire began on July 8 near the Entiat River. On July 14 a lightning storm started dozens more fires across the eastern Cascade Range. Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency, activating the Washington National Guard. More lightning strikes later in the summer started additional fires.

2015 Oregon wildfires

The 2015 Oregon wildfires were an ongoing series of wildfires affecting parts of the U.S. state of Oregon.

Lava Fire

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Barry Point Fire

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Helena Fire

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Bearskin Fire

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2017 Oregon wildfires

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Milli Fire

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Long Hollow Fire

The Long Hollow Fire was a wildfire burning five miles south of Dufur, Oregon in the United States. The fire was first reported on July 6, 2018 and has burned 78,425 acres (317 km2) .The fire was started by farm equipment. The fire is located just south of the Substation Fire. It is the third major fire of the 2018 Oregon wildfire season.


  1. 1 2 Tillamook Burn reforested after three blazes. Hillsboro Argus, October 19, 1976.
  2. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-02-18. Retrieved 2016-05-11.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) PROBLEMS OF FIRE IN NUCLEAR WARFARE Jerald E. Hill Rand Corporation Santa Monica, California 21 August 1961. pg 25
  3. See Lucia, supra, at 65.
  4. See Lucia, supra, at 135 et seq.
  5. 1 2 Decker, Doug. "Tillamook Burn". Oregon Encyclopedia. Portland State University and the Oregon Historical Society. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  6. Lucia, supra, at 185 and 215.
  7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTeKpWp8Psw

Coordinates: 45°32′N123°17′W / 45.54°N 123.29°W / 45.54; -123.29