USDA Forest Service

Strategic Planning and Resource Assessment


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Strategic Planning
and Resource Assessment

RP-E Rm 602
P.O. Box 96090    
Washington, D.C. 20090-6090



United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

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Forest Service 2003 Success Stories

Success Stories: The Great Fire That Never Was

Fire is a frequent topic of conversation at street corners and in coffee shops around Oscoda. A few old timers remember the great fire of 1911.

Oscoda Area Schools in northeast Michigan learn of the conflagration that swept through their town killing people, destroying buildings, and burning millions of acres of forestland before dying at the shores of Lake Huron . That fire was no fluke. A fire over 2,000 acres burned in the 1940's, and a 1,500-acre blaze in 1984 threatened homes and schools before being brought under control.

This area is a vast sea of jack pine forests that are adapted to frequent large and intense burns. But with more and more homes, schools, and businesses interspersed among the jack pine stands, fires must be contained and controlled quickly to save lives and property.

The 1984 fire allowed new jack pine stands to become established. Growing as thick as “dog's hair,” the stands were among the most dangerous on the Tawas Ranger District of the Huron-Manistee National Forest. Schools and homes would be caught in the middle if these vast stands caught fire. Coordinating their efforts, the USDA Forest Service and the Oscoda Area Schools funded projects on their own lands to create fuel breaks—long, narrow strips of land cleared of fuels like jack pine trees—in strategic areas, planning for a future fire while hoping that day never came.

On a hot and dry, windy day the following spring, however, a fire did start near the Oscoda High School . Firefighting forces from the Forest Service, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and Oscoda Township Fire Department flanked the advancing blaze that was putting up 40-foot tall flames, but could not pinch it off at the head as it approached a subdivision of homes. Then, the fire ran into something that changed the course of history that day—a strategically placed fuel break constructed the previous fall. There, its flames diminished for want of fuel, effectively stopping the fire in its tracks. Firefighters who were safely working safely in the fuel break put out embers that the fire had ‘spit' into the woods and grass surrounding the homes before they could start new fires.

No firefighters were injured and no buildings were lost. What could have been the great fire of 1998 was avoided by advanced, coordinated planning and strategic placement of firebreaks.

USDA Forest Service - Strategic Planning and Resource Assessment
Last Modified: Monday, 16 December 2013 at 14:19:04 CST

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