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:: Home > The Watershed > Hot topic: Fire > Managing Fire
Managing Fire...
During Euro-American settlement, as forests were cleared for agriculture and lumber, many pioneers were affected by wildfires. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, entire towns were destroyed and many lives were lost. Wildfire, whether caused by lightning or by humans, came to be seen as an enemy. One writer of the time called the fight against wildfire "the moral equivalent of war".

Aggressive fire suppression became the rule in the early 1900s. In the drier forests of eastern and southwestern Oregon, even forest managers who had practiced "light burning" to protect large trees stopped all use of fire.

new growth after fire, ©Karen Wattenmaker

Firefighting did not have much impact at first. But by the 1950s, as technology improved, and government agencies devoted more resources to firefighting, the average amount of land burned by fires each year was dramatically reduced.

Historically, the Douglas-fir forests west of the Cascades did not burn very often - perhaps every few hundred years. Because of the rapid growth of logging, it became mandatory in 1917 to burn "slash" left after timber harvesting. Slash burning removes large accumulations of limbs and unmerchantable trees in order to reduce the danger of wildfire. It is still widely practiced, but after 1968 it was no longer mandatory, largely due to concerns about the negative effects of smoke reaching urbanized areas. These days, logging slash may also be chipped on-site. slash burning after logging