The Great Forks Fire

newspaper article

Sixty years ago today a few hot spots remained from a forest fire near Camp Creek.  On September 20, 1951, the humidity dropped and a strong east wind gave life to those remaining embers.  Around 3:00 am on September 20, 1951 a forest fire began its devastating journey down the Calawah River Valley and the citizens of Forks awoke to a rapidly moving fire, headed right for them.  The fire burned 38,000 acres overnight and traveled 18 miles in less than 8 hours, and a desperate effort to save the town began.

Marge Walhgren, a mother of 2 small children, had learned from her mother that there was a forest fire burning.  She recalls going outside that morning and the eeriness of the dark sky during daylight hours.  She says she thought it was raining at first and then she realized it was not rain hitting her face, it was bits of bark, ash and needles falling like rain.  Preparing for possible evacuation she washed diapers and set out her “valuables” to take, her silverware, on the dining room table.  At around 2:15 that afternoon the State Patrol ordered evacuation of women and children.  Volunteers coming in to help fight the fire reported a steady stream of evacuees throughout the day but those remaining had about 15 minutes to pack up and leave before the highway to Port Angeles was cut off.  Wahlgren grabbed the children and the diapers but in the rush totally forgot about her “valuables” her silverware.  Walhgren’s father had just completed building a 40 ft fishing trawler, it sat a block off of main street, he and Walhlgren’s husband Richard stayed behind to save what they could, mainly the trawler.  Walhgren made it to Port Angeles and she remembers the most frustrating thing was trying to get information about what was happening in Forks.  There were rumors that “there was nothing left” “the town is gone”.

When the fire had burned to where Ron’s Food Mart is today, it looked like a losing battle, one witness said houses were exploding like matches.  Then sometime after 6 pm, a southwest breeze sprang up, in a matter of minutes the fire rolled back on itself.  While the danger was not over the town was spared.  Around 38 structures were lost but there was no loss of life. After the fire a state forestry supervisor said, “The saving of Forks was a miracle, made up of hard work, guts and luck.”

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