The wildfires of 2015 were the greatest in Washington State history, consuming whole landscapes. But fires did not always do this.
In 1910 the largest wildfire in recorded American history swept through the west, covering nearly 3 million acres. The US Forest Service regional director, William Greeley, believed the fire was the work of the devil, and elevated firefighting to the raison d'etre - the overriding mission - of the Forest Service.
As fire suppression became policy, the logging industry saw the opportunity for larger yields. With the development of the modern chainsaw in the 1920's, clear cutting became the largest funding source of the US Forest Service. When Greeley left his position as Western Regional Director in 1928 he became an executive with the timber company, West Coast Lumberman's Association.
Fire suppression for the past 100 years has made the growth after clearcuts congested. Like a garden left unweeded, the trees grow thickly together, competing for water, sunlight and nutrients. Unable to develop bark thick enough to protect against fire, these trees become fuel for the flames.