If you had come to Green Springs Inn on Friday, August 1, what would you have seen?
Blue sky. Tall firs swaying in a gentle breeze. A few people enjoying local microbrew on the deck. Sorry, no drama.
Six miles east, along Copco Road, there was plenty of action. Late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning, a bolt of lightning hit a tree somewhere south of the old Box O Ranch, between Highway 66 and the California border. A few hours later, a small crew from our local Greensprings Rural Fire District showed up and found about 20 acres burning. Led by our intrepid Chief, Gene Davies, they brought in some water, laid out hose and prepared to put the thing to rest.
That was not to be. The fire exploded in their faces. Dry, erratic winds shifted. The fire invaded a tract of plantation, acres and acres of 15-foot pines crowded together with branches all the way to the ground. A column of flame, hot gas and smoke shot up thousands of feet and started to rotate like a superheated dust devil. The firestorm threw burning debris in all directions.
Thanks in part to a call from an ODF spotter plan circling above, our firefighters escaped. They spent the rest of the day herding Copco Road neighbors south to a big, irrigated meadow on Fall Creek Ranch. This was no small undertaking because our neighbors are an independent bunch and don’t take well to herding. Everyone spent the night in the green pasture and all survived while the fire burned around them. More firefighters arrived to defend structures. When the smoke cleared, just one home and several unoccupied structures were lost.
Over the weekend, the fire grew by more than 10,000 acres per day. Eventually it consumed more than 35,000 acres. ODF, BLM, the State Fire Marshall and the State of California deployed more than 1,700 personnel along with air tankers and helicopters, around 20 aircraft altogether. With help from favorable weather the following week, they controlled what became know as the Oregon Gulch fire. Needless to say, we are grateful.
What’s the takeaway? Forest fires are one thing but firestorms are another proposition altogether. The conditions for our firestorm were created by industrial loggers, who harvested millions of board feet and left behind thousands of acres of crowded, same-age, same-species plantation, i.e. firestorms waiting to happen.
The big operator behind the Copco Road clear-cuts was US Timberlands, which eventually went bankrupt. Before it went belly up, UST extracted millions of dollars in logs to repay the loans that financed the deal. Those millions went to Wall Street. The millions required to douse the fire came from us.