Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett, Klamath Falls, District 28
Barry Point Fire - Extreme loss of
timber, grazing, wildlife and watershed resources
Last Thursday, I toured parts of the Barry Point Fire near
Lakeview. The wildfire consumed more than 145 square-miles of
timber and grazing resources. The devastation is truly
incredible. In places the fire was more than ten miles wide. It
ran for about 30 miles, crossed the state-line, and burned more
than 10 miles into California.
The fire was ignited by a lightening-strike on Barry Point in
the Winema-Fremont National Forest. It was reported by a lookout
in mid-afternoon at about one-quarter acre in size. Within
minutes it had grown to several acres and began to crown.
State forestry had a pumper on the fire within fifteen minutes.
It dispatched a total of seven pumpers, two helicopters, two
water-scooping airplanes and two hand crews totaling thirty
firefighters that same afternoon. The fire simply exploded away
from them due to extreme fuel loads, tinder dry conditions and
The fire burned extremely hot, totally consuming nearly 40,000
acres of forest and causing up to 75 percent mortality on an
additional 35,000 acres of forest land. High winds fanned flames
several hundred feet high and caused burning debris to start
spot-fires often half a mile in front of the fireís head. In
total, it burned nearly 60,000 acres of federal forest, and more
than 33,000 acres of privately owned lands.
Thankfully, there was no loss of human life, only a few minor
injuries and no structures burned in the wildfire. However, the
loss of public resources was immense. Additionally, more than
fifty private landowners experienced significant loss of timber
and grazing resources including livestock killed and injured as
well as hundreds of miles of fencing destroyed. Collins Timber
Company alone had more than 20,000 acres of timber plantations
incinerated, mostly in California
I travelled with Lake County Commissioner Dan Shoun, Winema-Fremont
Supervisor Fred Way, Oregon Department of Forestryís Greg
Pittman, and several other state and federal forestry staff
members. We met with a number of the affected landowners on
their property and engaged in quite candid conversations
regarding the fire and its aftermath.
All of the landowners we spoke with acknowledged that the fire
behavior was often extreme and that atypical winds made it more
difficult to control. They expressed their sincere gratitude to
all those who worked so hard to help them finally control the
However, the fact of the matter is that many are looking at the
near total destruction of the value of their property, through
no fault of their own. There is virtually no chance that they
will be compensated for the losses caused by the fire that
originated on federal forest land.
Federal, state and private foresters alike all expressed their
deep concerns regarding the non-management of the federal forest
resources that lead up to this disastrous event. That lack of
management has caused extreme accumulation of ground and ladder
fuels that virtually ensure a fire holocaust under dry and windy
summer conditions. The foresters all agree that these virtually
uncontrollable wildfires will continue to occur until those
management policies are meaningfully changed.
Many of the landowners voiced what appeared to be valid concerns
regarding how the fire suppression effort was prosecuted.
They pointed out numerous perceived lost chances to curtail or
control the fire. Opportunities to help them build close-in fire
lines and burn-out were disregarded and passed over. Several
owners believe action on these opportunities could have saved
both private and federal resources as well as potentially
achieving containment at a much earlier and less destructive
One consistent observation was the general lack of timely
communication between federal and state employees with private
land interests. Affected landowners were not kept informed of
planned fire suppression efforts either on private or public
land. Private land was routinely trespassed. In some cases,
private land was burned by setting backfires without either
notification or permission. They believe that some of these set
fires potentially endangered people and livestock.
Several owners expressed their perception that large blocks of
forest and grazing resources were needlessly destroyed by
igniting large backfires that did little if any good. They said
there appeared to be reluctance by the federal fire team to get
in close and stop the fire even during periods when the fire was
laid down and moving slowly if at all.
Landowners felt their knowledge of terrain, access and wind
behavior was routinely not only ignored but simply disrespected.
Their privately owned fire suppression assets were too often
neither solicited nor utilized in a coordinated manner.
Landowners are deeply concerned that the potential firebreak
afforded by the four hundred foot wide cleared right of way
above the Ruby Pipeline was not effectively utilized to stop the
southern spread of the wildfire into California. In fact, two
landowners observed that the federal fire overhead team made
virtually no effort to stop the fire the night it crossed over
that pipeline right of way. No one could tell us if the
potential firebreak was even manned that night.
Many landowners conveyed concerns regarding their ability to
find markets for their harvestable salvage timber. They worried
about the cost of harvesting the timber and how much they would
be charged to haul the salvaged logs over forest service roads.
They voiced the need to change current Oregon Forest Practices
rules requiring replanting their harvested acreage. They pointed
out that these costs may well exceed the value of the
harvestable timber preventing them from even starting
restoration efforts on their land.
Landowners also voiced concerns regarding their lost grazing
resources and the delays that may be forthcoming in being
allowed to resume the use of their federal grazing permits. Some
commented on how quickly federal accommodations were made in
Californiaís Region five to provide relief access to undamaged
CRP and refuge grazing resources while no such accommodations
were made or offered in Oregonís region 6.
The loss of private and public timber, grazing, wildlife and
watershed resources is immense. Untold numbers of elk, deer and
other forest animals were killed and ancient eco-system habit
destroyed. It will be generations before that vast burned-out
scar will be restored. Unfortunately, the Barry Point fire is
just one of dozens of similar situations in Oregon and other
Our nationís timber and grazing resources are routinely being
wasted. At the same time our timber industry infrastructure is
vanishing due to lack of access to public timberlands. Virtually
complete management failure of federal land results in huge
accumulations of grass, brush and diseased and dying trees. The
predictable outcome is even more wildfires that will develop
into uncontrollable holocausts that result in ever more
generational losses of resources.
The status quo is simply unacceptable. I plan to work with
Commissioner Shoun in his crusade to use the Barry Point fire as
an example of how our state and federal policies must be changed
and why common sense management must be restored.
Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon, no one
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