At the end of summer in southern Oregon’s Cascade foothills, when trees and brush have turned tinder dry and thunderstorms regularly roll overhead, Millie Chatterton and her neighbors start thinking about the lightning strike that could touch off disaster.
Chatterton can’t forget the afternoon in 1987 when she walked out of a grocery store in her town, Cave Junction, and saw a “big atomic mushroom cloud” of smoke blossoming on the horizon. Later, she watched the lightning-caused wildfire “blowing up trees one after another” on federal property near her own five acres. That fire, which scorched 150,000 acres of land in Oregon and California, came within six miles of Chatterton’s house. In 2002, the notorious Biscuit fire, also started by lightning, came even closer, roaring within a mile of her land as it torched 500,000 acres.
After each close call, Chatterton — who is retired and gets by on a set income — looked for help to reduce the fire threat on her property. This meant thinning Douglas firs and black oaks, and ... Read more