National Geographic : 1968 Jul
EKTACOLOR(ABOVE)BYJAMESW. HUGHES Veteran of wartime bombing raids, a Douglas Invader spews chemical retardant on a small fire in Ochoco National Forest, Oregon. Dyed red for visibility, the slurry quenches flames and soaks trees and undergrowth in the path of the fire. The 25-year-old plane 267,000 acres along the Oregon coast, destroy ing more than 13 billion board feet of timber and raining debris on ships 500 miles at sea. Fire in 1967 had a powerful ally: severe drought. Thanks to the Northwest's rich wa ter resources and elaborate irrigation systems, farm crops did not suffer unduly. But people and forests did. Portland, which usually en joys pleasantly cool summers, experienced 71 consecutive rainless days while sweltering in temperatures ranging up to 1050 F. Remarkably enough, considering the thou sands of men committed to the hard, danger ous job of suppressing the fires, only three lives were lost during the season. But by the 112 time the last blaze was under control, the cost in timber was reckoned in many millions of dollars. With the forests closed, some mills shut down, and loggers, truckers, and other workers faced lean days. Incalculable damage was done to water sheds, wildlife habitats, and recreational and scenic areas. Fishing lodges and dude ranches suffered from canceled reservations. The fiercest fires destroyed even the organic mat ter in the topsoil, and left the land prey to erosion. Ashy debris rolled down the steep slopes into streams and lakes, polluting the haunts of the Northwest's famous steelhead trout and salmon.