A look back: Deschutes Forest's biggest wildfire

2003 B&B Complex torched more than 90,000 acres

A look back: B&B Complex Fire

SISTERS, Ore. - It was an historic battle for Central Oregon. The 2003 B&B Complex Fire would test the limits of firefighters and the.

In August of that year, the Bear Butte and Booth fires, both sparked by lightning, started within hours of one another.

The two fires would eventually merge in the central Cascades to become the massive B&B Complex Fire, the largest wildfire ever recorded on the Deschutes National Forest.

The fire burned more than 90,000 acres of forestland and,, according to the Forest Service, while no homes were lost, the fire killed enough trees outside the wilderness area to build 30,000 homes.

The fire also dealt a tough blow to the tourist-dependent city of Sisters due to a lengthy closure of U.S. Highway 20, the main route from Salem to Central Oregon.

For some, the massive wildfire is just a distant memory. But for fire officials, the B&B Complex Fire would mean change.

Kassidy Kern, a public affairs specialist with the Deschutes National Forest, says after B&B, Type 3 teams were developed further to be more prepared for a higher level of complexity.

Fire resources are allocated by type, and according to the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center; the classification of resources in the Incident Command System refers to capability.

Type 1 is generally considered to be more capable than Type 2, 3, or 4 respectively, because of size, power, capacity or, in the case of incident management teams, experience and qualifications.

Lessons learned from the B&B Complex Fire make a difference in the successful suppression of more recent fires like the Two Bulls Fire west of Bend. The Two Bulls Fire started as two separate fires that merged into one.

Officials say it's the regions firefighting resources that work together differently now. After the B&B Fire, Kern says, "We really have developed great relationships with our partners." That includes Deschutes County, the city of Bend, Oregon Department of Forestry and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs.

Kern says it's important for all of the firefighting agencies to work together in the best interest of the public. and to work together well.

"They need to communicate and order resources very quickly and not have the fact that it's a different agency trip us up.," she adds.

"It's really a testament to the B&B Fire that from such devastation came these good working relationships," Kern says.

The B&B Complex Fire was reported as contained on September 26, 2003.  Memories of the devastation have affected the policies used to this day.

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