Big Fires: Oregon Fire History

11pm Monday…

The Okanogan Complex in Washington is now the state’s largest fire in history.  256,000 acres and still growing.  You may remember that last year’s Carlton Complex was the largest in the state’s history since the Yacolt Burn in 1902.

So how big have they been in Oregon?

The Silverton Fire in 1865 is the largest on record at just shy of one million acres!


By the way, for those of you not inclined to acres…it takes 640 acres to make one square mile.  So that fire burned about a 40 by 40 mile square!  Wow.

That was during a time of extremely large fires…from 1850 to around 1900 there were repeated huge burns in the Coast Range.  I didn’t even bother to put two more huge fires in the Coast Range from the late 1800s on the chart.  I had forgotten about the huge fire in SE Oregon 3 years ago…of course that was mainly rangeland, but a lot of acreage in just a few days!   The first big Tillamook Burn charred just over a quarter million acres in 1933 too.

After a huge firestorm in Idaho and western Montana in 1910, the USFS went to a “put out all fires” mentality for a long time so massive fires mostly disappeared in the Coast Range and Cascades.  Whether that has increased fire problems nowadays is well beyond my area of expertise (weather).  Someone else can tackle that subject.

The cooler and hopefully wetter weather coming up this weekend and early next week MAY really dampen the current fires.  We’ll see.  I see a bit of a drier trend in models the past 18 hours.  We’ll see.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen

24 Responses to Big Fires: Oregon Fire History

  1. weather says:

    I realize that the weather in the US very harsh

  2. schmit44 says:

    8/25/2015 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:100 at Rye Valley(I-84(2229 ft)
    Low: 71 at Rye Valley(I-84(2229 ft)

    High:56 at Newport(30 ft)
    Low: 32 at CROW FLAT (5172 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 52 degrees
    CROW FLAT (84/32 ) (5172 ft )

    Heaviest Rainfall:
    0.13″ at MASON DAM & PHIL(3899ft)

  3. As says:

    So excited about the rain and, even better, the cooler temperatures coming up! I wonder, does anyone know if it will stick around, or is it just temporary relief until October?

  4. JohnD says:

    I’m down for rain (life long W Oregonian); but I am definitely OK with having it not commence in earnest until–say–the end of September! lol

  5. pappoose in scappoose says:

    I really like your 7-day forecast, Mark!
    Went from a soaking possible, to WEEKEND SOAKING!

    Right, Paul D, this kinda talk has probably sealed our fate for more of the same.

    • pappoose in scappoose says:

      A trip to Vista House was fun today. But heading east from there looked like it could be a bad idea, with the brown haze visible, lurking further east.
      I prefer to limit my smoke exposure to campfires, which I can leave quickly when I wish.

  6. W7ENK says:

    Since we’re swapping stories: My late Grandmother survived a terrible fire outside Duluth, Minnesota when she was just 7 years old — by a stroke of luck, I suppose.

    October 1918:

    She had been invited to a birthday party for another girl who was a bit older, beside a small lake in the nearby town of Cloquet. Her mother felt that she was perhaps too young to attend this birthday party, so she was kept in Duluth. A couple of days prior, sparks from a train had started a fire in some dry grass, which then spread to a recently logged area. The day of the birthday party, the fire exploded and swept through the town of Cloquet, incinerating everything and everyone trapped in the town. The people at this birthday party sought refuge out on the lake, but quickly met their demise when the fire completely surrounded the water. The heat and flames were so intense that the air was literally sucked up off the lake, which sank the boats and suffocated and/or drowned everyone on the lake. In all, more than 450 people lost their lives, and many thousands of others were injured or otherwise displaced.

    After the fire, her father (my great grandfather) walked through the town and found a penny laying in the street. The side facing the sky was completely melted, bubbled and unrecognizable. The side facing the ground was just fine. My grandmother had that penny and showed it to me when she told me this story. I think my mother now has it somewhere.

    Tragic, yet fascinating all at once.

  7. steve says:

    What about the biscuit fire?

  8. WEATHERDAN says:

    77 and bright blue skies at 1:00 PM. On our way to 86. 51 this morning was the 64th consecutive day above 50. Today is also our 83rd straight day of 70+ in a row. We have also had just .01 of rain over the last 84 days, amazing. Peace.

  9. WEATHERDAN says:

    Ready for a good laugh? The GFS meteogram has PDX getting 3.36 inches or rain in about 96 hours. This would be from Friday-Monday. What a laugh. In August that would be unheard of. And with such a dry atmosphere over us now and such dry ground it makes that figure extremely unlikely. So how much will we get? Well maybe up to about ,67 in the Puget Sound. About .35 at PDX. And maybe ,20 in Salem and Eugene. However as Mark posted models are trending drier the last few runs. Still we should get something. Highs should also fall into the mid 70,s for 3 or 4 days Before warming back to the low 80,s by about September 2nd, No big heat in sight but a return to 80,s and dry is likely by late next week. Peace.

    • Paul D says:

      PDX getting 3.36 inches

      Now that’s FUNNY!

      Hillsboro will get ZERO, just like they have for the past couple “rain” events.

    • MasterNate says:

      I don’t think its out of the question if some remnants of the typhoons gets entrained with the incoming lows. 2 years ago something similar happened, towards the end of September I believe where we got 6″ in a few days.

    • Boydo3 N. Albany says:

      Nate I think you are right. We had all of the average Sept, Oct and Nov rain in the month of Sept. Then a dry winter…..

  10. G. Carich says:


    If you are interested in learning more about wildfires in America, go to PBS’ “American Experience” and look at “The Big Burn.” It was very well done. (2/15)

    I fought fire for 9 years on a USFS IR (nowadays Hotshot) crew. Mark: Your calculations on acreage and square miles were good.

  11. says:

    I had to check Mark’s math skills because 40 x 40 miles sounded huge. He is correct, slightly over that! 40 x 40 is 1600. 1600 x 640 is a little over a million. That is amazing. That would be from portland to almost Salem, and Sandy to Hillsboro. WOW!

  12. Farmer Ted says:

    My mom survived the Idaho fire of 1910 as a baby, her family lived near Mullan ID and had to take a few family pictures and belongings into a mine to save them from the fire.

    The fire incinerated all that it encountered — towns, trees and lives. From scientists, we know the likely power of the blowup: runs of more than 50,000 acres, firebrands thrown 10 miles from the flame front, turbulence of up to 80 mph, burns — where the fire entered a natural crucible — equivalent to a Hiroshima-type bomb exploding every two minutes. Three million acres of land burned in two days.

    Read more:

  13. Paul D says:

    Cool, AND a soaking? Not going to happen. Give it a few days and the 7-day forecast will be back to all 80+ and dry….

    • Jason Hougak says:

      Paul do be so down hearted. I’m in the same boat as you and am ready for the PNW to be the PNW and not Arizona anymore.

    • MasterNate says:

      Get a rope!

    • David B. says:

      Inverse wishcasting, of course, but yeah it wouldn’t be the first such thing that’s flopped. Particularly for Oregon.

    • Paul D says:

      Ya’ll saw through my reverse psychology 🙂

      It’s definitely time for the OR we know and love to come back.

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