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Ghosts of Wildfires Past

September 16, 2012

Along the crestline of the Cascade Mountains between Mount Washington and Mount Jefferson, swaths of ghost trees rise from the forest floor. Sentinels from a wildfire almost 10 years past, the trees stand as silent memories over once-scorched land.

Wildfires are enigmatic. Often, their origins can be determined, but the path they will take and the fierceness with which they will devour the land cannot be predicted. With the right fuel, their swirling, dancing, leaping flames can race up hills and mountains, shooting several stories tall and eclipsing the horizon. They make their own wind and stir their own weather, drying out any remnants of moisture from the trees and plants and giving their flames even more fuel. The crackling, spitting, hissing noise that bursts from the depths of the inferno combine to a roaring crescendo that blocks out an other sound.

In their purest, unhindered form, wildfires are examples of the sheer, terrifying fury of Mother Nature. People who underestimate the power of these firestorms often find themselves on the losing end of that fury, fleeing in the middle of the day or night with little except the clothes on their backs.

The sentinels on the crestline between Mount Jefferson and Mount Washington are memories of the 2003 B & B Complex Fire, two fires that combined to char more than 90,000 acres of public and reservation land. More than 2,300 firefighters worked to control the fire, which took 34 days at a cost of $38.7 million. Eight firefighters were injured in the blaze and 13 structures were lost.

But still, the ghosts remain.

Remnants of the B & B Complex Fire with Mount Washington in the distance

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