Local Histories- The Children of the Tillamook Burn

Between 1933 and 1951 more than 550 square miles of forest west of Portland burned in what were, back then, unheard-of conflagrations. The fires were driven, much like the fires of today, by extreme temperatures and windy conditions and the inaccessibility of the terrain and lack of human power to fight the blazes conspired to render the state relatively helpless. For nearly two decades, the coast range burned. As each fire decimated once profitable timber stands, the logging companies, some responsible for the ignition of the blazes, stopped paying property taxes and the land reverted to public ownership. When the fires finally spent through the available fuel, Portland and its surrounding areas were left to face a scarred and blackened landscape that now belonged to them. In what at the time was more of a visceral, emotive response than a resource management plan, the decision was made to replant.
While several groups had a hand in the replanting effort in the decades over which it occurred, none was as unique as the Portland youth labor that rallied to the cause. Between 1950 and 1970 more than 20,000 Portland school children would participate in voter-funded and school-organized tree planting in what was to become the Tillamook Forest. It’s no wonder that the Portland population has long been known for its progressive views and opposition to the timber industry in what has traditionally been a whole-hearted logging state.
They watched it burn. They helped it grow. It’s hard to log a forest that you can rightly call your own.