10th Anniversary of the Biscuit Fire

By Steven Sandberg

The Biscuit Fire in 2002 was one of the largest and most expensive wildfires in Oregon’s history, burning 500,000 acres across southwest Oregon, and costing more than $150 million to contain.

10 years later, the images are still hard to fathom: a graveyard of trees, stretching across parts of hundreds of square miles; a testament to the size, scope, and power of the Biscuit Fire.

In July 2002, spot fires sprang up on hillsides across Josephine County, all aided by wind, tinder, dry brush and trees, and a lack of firefighting resources at the peak of fire season. Before long, the multiple spot fires combined into one.

The wildfire raged in size as firefighters struggled to get any sort of advantage. Weeks went by, then months. What began in July became an unprecedented wildfire, burning for six months; thousands of firefighters from around the world were brought in, some from as far away as New Zealand, finally bringing it under control in December.

The end result: 500,000 acres burned, in an area almost 700 square miles. The fire burned south into California, as far west as nearly Gold Beach, east towards Grants Pass, all the way north to Bear Camp Road, which connects Galice to Gold Beach. 10 years later, the scars left by the flames still show. Sections near Cave Junction show a mosaic of fire effects: patches of dead trees butted up against still growing sections of forest.

The different ways that the Biscuit Fire burned meant different impacts on areas within the fire. For example, one spot had a lot of under burn; selecting against some species of tree, but allowing others to thrive. The fire burned through some areas, which cleared the way for other species of plant to grow that would not have survived under previous conditions. Ecologists say it shows even Oregon’s largest wildfire in 100 years comes with a purpose.