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Monday, October 9, 2017

National Fire Prevention Week is Oct. 8-14

 Ever since 1925, National Fire Prevention Week has been observed on the Sunday through Saturday of the week when Oct. 9 falls in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire. That conflagration started on Oct. 8, 1871 but did most of its damage the next day. The fire killed more than 250 people, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres. A hundred thousand people were left homeless by the fire. Contrary to urban myth, the blaze was not started by Mrs. O'Leary's cow knocking over a lantern. Although the fire did start near the O'Leary barn, a news writer admitted years afterward that he had made up the story, according to Chicago historian Robert Cromie.


The most devastating forest fire in American history started on the same day as the Great Chicago Fire. However, the Peshtigo Fire drew little notice because it started in a rural area of Wisconsin and newspapers focused on the damage to more populous Chicago.


Contemporary accounts say the Peshtigo blaze began when several railroad workers clearing land for tracks in northeast Wisconsin unintentionally started a brush fire. Before long, the fast-moving flames were whipping through the area 'like a tornado,' some survivors said. The fire burned down a dozen towns, killed at least 1,152 people and possibly hundreds more, and scorched 1.2 million acres before it ended. The small town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin suffered the worst damage. Within an hour, the entire town had been destroyed and half its population had perished.
Those who survived the Chicago and Peshtigo fires never forgot what they'd been through. The fires also changed the way that firefighters and public officials thought about fire safety. On the 40th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire, the Fire Marshals Association of North America (today known as the International Fire Marshals Association), decided that the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire should be observed in a way that would keep the public informed about the importance of fire prevention.  By 1920, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the anniversary as the first National Fire Prevention Day. Two years later, the entire week during which the anniversary falls was declared Fire Prevention Week. Every president since Calvin Coolidge in 1925 has proclaimed National Fire Prevention Week.

Although not as common as summer fire starts, Oregon has also seen destructive wildfires in October, one reason fire season usually lasts through at least mid-October. One of the worst years for October wildfires in Oregon was 1987. That year, on Oct. 9 the Shady Lane Fire started in Polk County. It burned more than 1,000 acres before over 300 fire fighters managed to contain it. The next day, the 20-acre Alder Creek Fire threatened a dozen homes east of Sandy in Clackamas County, and the Wanless Road Fire burned nearly 70 acres of brush and timber northwest of Sheridan. Later in the month, a fire south of Coos Bay burned some 225 acres. The Rockhouse Creek Fire, which started on Oct. 18, burned about 5,000 acres west of Dallas, destroying about 35% of the city's watershed.

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The purpose of this blog is to provide breaking news about wildfire activity on the forestlands protected by the Oregon Department of Forestry. We invite you to post questions or comments about current wildfires. Please keep your posts civil and free of profanity.

Current wildfire info

National weather forecasters predictions that Oregon would see above average temperatures and below average rainfall in the summer of 2018 proved true. Almost all of Oregon was abnormally dry this summer, with a majority of the state in moderate to severe drought. Many areas posted record high temperatures or record strings of hot days. These conditions set the stage for potentially large, fast-moving wildfires.

What we do

Protection jurisdiction
The Oregon Dept. of Forestry protects 16 million acres of private and public forestlands from wildfire. This includes all private forestlands in Oregon as well as state and local government-owned forests, along with 2.8 million acres of federal Bureau of Land Management lands in the western part of the state. In total there are about 30.4 million acres of forest in Oregon.

Fire suppression policy
The department fights fire aggressively, seeking to put out most fires at 10 acres or smaller. This approach minimizes damage to the timber resource and fish and wildlife habitat, and protects lives and property. It also saves money. While suppressing large fires can cost millions of dollars, economic and environmental damage from wildfires can be many times greater.


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Oregon Dept. of Forestry's public information officers in Salem, Ore., maintain this blog. During the wildfire season, we spend much of our time reporting on fires and firefighting to news media and the public.