Central Oregon

B&B plus 10: C.O.'s biggest wildfire marks milestone

B&B Complex burned 90,000 acres, began 10 years ago

B&B Complex: 10 years later

SANTIAM PASS, Ore. - It was a fire of truly historic proportions -- and Monday marked the 10th anniversary of the start of what became the massive B&B Complex of wildfires near Santiam Pass.

The Bear Butte and Booth fires were sparked by lightning during the first week of August of 2003.

Over the next two weeks, the two fires roared to life, reported just hours apart on the 19th of August. The fires eventually merged and burned 90,769 acres. For 34 days, an army of 2,300 firefighters worked to try and stop the flames.

Along with the two-week closure of Highway 20 -- dealing the town of Sisters a major summer-tourism blow -- the community of Camp Sherman was evacuated twice, and also lost a planned visit by President George W. Bush.

"I remember where I was --, I won't forget that," said Brian Tandy, a silviculturist with the Sisters Ranger District at the time. "I was actually out on the ground with the president's advance team, laying out where he was going to go with the Forest Service -- that's when we saw the fires."

Bush had plans to use Central Oregon as a backdrop for his Healthy Forest Initiative.

A speech was planned in Camp Sherman, but because of the fire it was moved to the fairgrounds in Redmond, and Bush flew over the fire area for an inspection tour by helicopter.

"Bush flew over my house in his helicopter," recalled trail rider George Rondema of Redmond. "I saw that when they looked at it (the fire)."

Rondema, who uses the trails in the burn scar, says he sees a much different landscape than he did over a decade ago.

"It used to be beautiful," Rondema said. "I mean, it was gorgeous -- green trees everywhere. There was a lot of game-- deer and elk all over the place. It was pretty country."

He says Mother Nature has begun to heal the scar along the Pacific Crest Trail.

"Gradually, it's coming back," Rondema said. "Slowly but surely. The deer and elk are back, so it's coming back."

"It was kind of unprecedented," Tandy said. "At least in our area to have a fire that big up until then, I think there were a lot of things that we could learn."

We'll have more stories about the huge fires and their impact in coming days. In the meantime, here or on our Facebook page, feel free to share your memories of the fire that had such a major impact on the High Desert -- one still felt today.

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