MONDAY 01-14-2013 - Sheriff Mike Winters, more on the Jo County Permanent Taxing District, Dr. Dennis Powers discusses history of the Biscuit Fire.

Jan 14, 2013 -- 11:20am

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  Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  On the issue of guns, given how difficult it will be -- some would say impossible -- to get any gun control measure passed through this Congress, what are you willing or able to do, using the powers of your presidency, to act without Congress?  And I'd also like to know, what do you make of these long lines we're seeing at gun shows and gun stores all around the country?  I mean, even in Connecticut, applications for guns are up since the shooting in Newtown.

     THE PRESIDENT:  Well, my understanding is the Vice President is going to provide a range of steps that we can take to reduce gun violence.  Some of them will require legislation.  Some of them I can accomplish through executive action.  (Hmmm, I didn't know the Bill of Rights was regulated by the President, did you?) And so I'll be reviewing those today.  And as I said, I'll speak in more detail to what we're going to go ahead and propose later in the week.

     But I'm confident that there are some steps that we can take that don't require legislation and that are within my authority as President.  And where you get a step that has the opportunity to reduce the possibility of gun violence then I want to go ahead and take it. 

     Q    Any idea of what kind of steps?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think, for example, how we are gathering data, for example, on guns that fall into the hands of criminals, and how we track that more effectively -- there may be some steps that we can take administratively as opposed through legislation. (This is supposedly in reaction to Sandy Hook - Just how is gathering data on guns that fall into the hands of criminal have ANYTHING to do with this?)

     As far as people lining up and purchasing more guns, I think that we've seen for some time now that those who oppose any common-sense gun control or gun safety measures have a pretty effective way of ginning up fear on the part of gun owners that somehow the federal government is about to take all your guns away.  And there's probably an economic element to that.  It obviously is good for business. (Funny, gun shop owners tell me they wonder if ultimately they'll still be in business if Obama has his way...How is that "Good For Business"?)

     But I think that those of us who look at this problem have repeatedly said that responsible gun owners, people who have a gun for protection, for hunting, for sportsmanship, they don't have anything to worry about.  (The Second Amendment isn't about protection, hunting, or sportsmanship - It's the right to protect yourself from the government) The issue here is not whether or not we believe in the Second Amendment. (Your "Belief" or non-belief in the 2nd A is irrelevant, Mr. is THE LAW OF THE LAND)  The issue is, are there some sensible steps that we can take to make sure that somebody like the individual in Newtown can't walk into a school and gun down a bunch of children in a shockingly rapid fashion.  And surely, we can do something about that. (And he plans to do it by disarming people who don't do things like the Newtown shooter did,)

But part of the challenge that we confront is, is that even the slightest hint of some sensible, responsible legislation in this area fans this notion that somehow, here it comes and everybody's guns are going to be taken away.  It's unfortunate, but that's the case.  And if you look at over the first four years of my administration, we’ve tried to tighten up and enforce some of the laws that were already on the books.  (Ignoring those pesky "Fast and Furious" guns, of course) But it would be pretty hard to argue that somehow gun owners have had their rights infringed.


7:10 Sheriff Mike Winters discusses the jail, the staffing, the 2nd Amendment issues being talked about, new gun control?

7:35 Dale Matthews and Sandy Cassenelli talk about why they oppose the current discussed plans for a permanent Josephone County Taxing District for public safety, which the group Securing Our Safety proposes.

8:10 Dr. Dennis Powers, "Visiting Past and Present" segment, where today, it's the Biscuit Fire!

The Biscuit Fire of 2002

by Dennis Powers

On July 13th, 2002, southwestern Oregon had endured nearly two months of drought and a searing heat wave was cooking the area. The forecasted weather was for a high of 105 degrees that day, and the Illinois Valley forests were dry as kindling. The conditions were a perfect storm for dry lighting strikes--so hot that the heat evaporates the rain before it reaches the ground--and which start one-third of all forest fires.    

A series of electrical storms boiled over the mountains and just after 2:00 P.M. that afternoon, thunderbolts struck down onto the tinder-dry forests along the California-Oregon border. Theses bolts ignited five separate fires within 20 miles of one another inside Oregon's Siskiyou Mountains and the huge Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Without one drop of water cooling the land, 581 lighting strikes in total struck Jackson and Josephine Counties with 23 bolting down into the Siskiyou National Forest.

Despite immediate attempts to stop the first air-spotted fire, firefighting efforts failed and a second one--both on steep, rocky slopes--was seen burning the next day. Observers then saw the additional smoldering fires. With most of the nation’s fire-fighting manpower tied down elsewhere in the second worst fire season in 50 year (throughout eleven states), the small crews there didn’t have a chance to suppress the Kalmiopsis fires. In Oregon alone at the time, a dozen major fires were already burning out of control inside 100,000 acres.

Dubbed the Biscuit fire (after Oregon’s Biscuit Creek, where the fires joined together), the fires burned into one another in days and a 20-mile wall of flames sped through the wilderness of tall trees and thick brush. Only air-tankers could stop this, but the 10 Oregon tankers were already in use fighting fires in eastern and central Oregon. The small contingent of firefighters was forced to fall back, as the flames threatened the 17,000 residents in the Illinois Valley towns of Selma, Kerby, Cave Junction, and O’Brien.

With much of the fire inside remote wilderness (and skirting 199), the Forest Service's efforts were intentionally limited to setting large backfires and building fire-breaks. With limited manpower and smoke filling the area, the Service decided to let the flames burn in any direction, but into the Illinois Valley. On July 30th, however, one front blasted in 24-hours through 65,000 acres--two-thirds the size of Portland--racing 5-1/2 miles in only 90 minutes. At that rate, out-of-control fires would slam into Selma in less than an hour.

Easily seen from the I-5 corridor, mushroom clouds of thick, gray smoke reached as high as 30,000 feet into the sky. As the plumes topped, they collapsed to spew embers and burning branches miles from the fire’s edge. Along a 20-mile stretch of U.S. Route 199, the view to the west was an ominous string of plumes towering over the Valley. When 60-mile-per-hour winds blasted flames 100 feet over the Illinois River, homes and lives were directly threatened. Evacuation notices were issued for the entire Illinois Valley.

Worrying that these fires with prevailing winds would burn to the Rogue River, the Forest Service brought in its best wild-land firefighters. As a steady stream of packed vans and campers headed away from the Illinois Valley, another convoy of bulldozers on huge flatbeds, fire engines (from three-dozen Oregon communities), and school buses filled with firefighting crews headed into the remote valley. Grants Pass motels offered discounts to residents fleeing the area, as smoke-filled air and cinders blanketed Southern Oregon for days on end.

By early August, equipment and over 7,000 people operated from three main fire camps near Cave Junction, Brookings, and Gold Beach; the efforts included firefighters from Mexico and technical personnel from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. By August 10th, a combination of burnouts, bulldozed firelines, helicopter water-drops, firefighting “hotshots”, and a near-miraculous wind-shift saved the Illinois Valley with a safety ring.  

Nearly two months after the lighting strikes, the fires--still burning out of control--were said to be “contained”. Even with this, the Biscuit Fire wasn’t declared fully “controlled” until late November, and it burned until the winter rains came. On December 31rst, the Forest Service finally declared it to be officially extinguished.

Although no lives were lost and structural damage minimal--limited to less than a dozen structures that were primarily cabins--the burn area was 500,000 acres and Oregon’s largest forest fire of record. Some 40% of the 500,000 acres (200,000) within the fireline was reduced to charcoal and ash with 20% basically untouched.  

A controversy developed over whether the fires could have been put out in the first days, especially as to whether California and Oregon fire supervisors had effectively communicated. A later GAO report stated that any rapid responses were stretched thin by the outbreak of wildfires across the states and they missed an early chance to put out the blaze, as regional “helitac” crews and smokejumpers had been sent elsewhere. Leaving many forests choked with fuel, 80 years of suppressing wildland fires had compounded the problem. Despite learning that a wave of dry lightning strikes on a heated summer day can overwhelm small fire crews, it is possible that a fire of this magnitude could occur again.

In the years after the Biscuit Fire, despite the courts ruling for the Forest Service and that the salvage logging involved less than 1% of the fire-killed timber, protesters demonstrated against the efforts and blocked logging trucks. With U.S. Marshals and local police efforts, the logging proceeded as this became a battleground between the Bush administration and environmental groups over opening remote areas known as roadless areas to even salvage logging. At the end of 2006, helicopters removed the last of the salvage timber.

See RedOrbit, “Monster in the Woods: the Biscuit Fire,” at The Biscuit Fire; also, LaLande, Jeff. Oregon Encyclopedia, “Biscuit Fire of 2002” at Biscuit Fire.

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