2003. The Year of the B and B Complex Fire

August 19-September 26, 2003, with updates into 2023

In the natural course of Mother Nature, before the arrival of the White Man to the Northwest, fire played a regular, irregular role in opening up the forest. Every area of the forest burned now and then. In the High Cascades, with their wet climate, heavy snows, and a fairly low prevalence of lightning (at least in the more northerly areas like Mt. Jefferson), any particular piece of forest might experience a fire only once in two hundred years or more. If the interval since the last fire was brief, the fire might be only a mild ground fire that disposed of excessive undergrowth and left the large old growth trees intact.

But if the interval were long, the fire might be a huge conflagration, crowning and leaping and burning for months, stripping 100 or more square miles of the Cascades down to bare soil and scorched rocks-- such as the B and B Complex fire has done to a percentage of its burn area in 2003. The B and B burned its furious way through many forests that have not seen fire since before the White Man began fire suppression efforts in the early part of the Twentieth Century. Image: Three-Fingered Jack rises seemingly unscathed above the still-denuded slopes of Brush Creek nine years after the Fire; picture taken summer 2012. Compare this view with the picture lower on page that was taken on the complete opposite side of Three Fingered Jack. Image Credit: J. Thomas Jeffrey

Both of the "parent" fires of the B and B started on August 19th within hours of one another, and before the resultant B and B Complex Fire was contained, it burned 90,769 acres. Reports showed that 43% of this area was burned at high to moderate intensity levels. The total canopy kill ratio on the trees will take a least one growing season to reveal. (Note: as of September 21st, the Fire was not growing, but still was reported as only 95% contained; it was finally reported as contained on September 26, 2003).

Below are two pictures; the first taken seven years later, in 2010, from high on the Three Sisters. We are looking north, and see the enormous extent of the section of the B&B Fire that burned on the eastern side of the Cascade Crest (and there is much more on the western side of the Crest, also, but not visible in this view)....Also, by looking closer, we can also see (in the mid-foreground) the much older damage of the Big Lake Airstrip Fire of about 1968. The peaks visible on the distant skyline are Mt. St. Helens (barely), Mt. Jefferson (prominent), Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams (dimly seen to the right of Mt. Hood).

And below is a second picture, this one taken from near Santiam Pass, nine years later (in 2012). The vantage point is high atop Hoodoo Butte at over 5800 ft, the place the ski lifts go to at the Hoodoo Ski Area. We are looking north at Hogg Rock (the flat plateau); Three-Fingered Jack, and Mt. Jefferson. This view shows us the south and southwestern borders of the huge fire area. Highway 20, the Santiam Pass Highway, is the highway visible.

But there are some positive effects for outdoormen and wilderness users to enjoy!

During my time as a cross-country ski guide*, I witnessed an almost magical transformation of the Big Lake/Hoodoo/Cache Mountain area in the early 1970s after the Big Lake Airstrip Fire... Dozens of square miles of formerly impenetrable forest became a vast, open playground for skiers and snowmobilers, with great views of Mt. Washington and Three-Fingered Jack presiding over all the new open space!

Within the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, the new open spaces created by 2003's B and B Complex Fire will be much larger (the severe to moderate intensity burn areas amount to about 62 square miles), and also will extend to much higher altitudes, for a longer ski season....I can imagine that east-to-west winter traverse routes across the former Native American travel route of Minto Pass will become superb tourist draws--- for example, I forsee a new east-to-west route running from the Camp Sherman area, up over the Cascade summit, down to the wonderful Eight Lakes Basin, and thence exiting onto the burned shores of Marion Lake! Such trips will require 3-5 days due to the sheer size of the burned areas. Please email me for specific route suggestions. (see emailer at page bottom)

But this opportunity will be time-limited---Just as with the Big Lake Airstrip Fire, after 20-30 years, thick new reproduction will smother out the openness, and so for the next one generation, wilderness users--"Enjoy It while you can!"

This satellite image shows the B and B Fire on the afternoon of September 4th. Look for the smoke plume beginning in the upper center of the picture, which is the crest of the Cascade Mountains. On this day, the fire's size exploded to over 80,000 acres. In the picture, its smoke plume ran NE toward Madras/Redmond, and appears to reach as far as Pendleton, which is a full 175 air miles! It's hot and dry, with the temperature in Redmond at 3 p.m. a fire-conducive 96 degrees, with only 20% humidity.

one mile north of Rockpile Lake is a forgotten
trail junction where the Summit Trail met one of its feeder trails. All this history was
incinerated about Sept. 3 by the raging fires that rose up Brush Creek, touching even this remote
and hidden place.See images of ancient forest patriarchs and portions of historic Skyline Trail threatened or lost to the fire near Jefferson Creek and Brush Creek (with some reader update reports from 2007, 2008 and 2013)

Section about how the B&B has interacted with the historic trails such as the Summit Trail in the area near Carl Lake and Rockpile Lake

See 2004 image of actual trail damage on trail to Carl Lake


* My background to speak on this subject? While not a professional forester, I am an ex-forest firefighter, my experience includes working the Big Lake Airstrip Project Fire, which burned an area near Big Lake just south of the B and B Fire in 1967 or 68. Also, I was a Forest Service Wilderness Guard for the Sisters District portion of the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. Other expertise includes having been a cross-country ski guide, and being the son of a professional forester, and an Oregon climate expert, and a history/geology buff.

E-mailer: click to query Bruce Johnson, author of the above opinions, brucej@oregonphotos.com


Mt. Pisgah Lookout tower enveloped in smoke from the B and B Fire. This tower is on the Ochoco National Forest, fully 75 air miles distant from the Fire! The Booth Fire was first reported by an old-fashioned lookout tower-- Henkle Butte.

Mt. Pisgah Lookout on the Ochoco
National Forest is here shown doing its forest fire finding job. More about Oregon Fire Lookout Towers


See page two of my B and B coverage

See page three of my coverage (Santiam Pass)

See page four of my coverage(Mt. Washington)

Hopefully the rare Wolverine population perhaps in the area was not destroyed

A picture of the fire taken from the Oregon Star Party


Back to OregonPhotos Main page


Link to the official B and B Complex Fire website (as of September 2009, this became a historical website not receiving any further updates)

Link to the Deschutes National Forest Fire Information pages


Page last reviewed 1/14//2023