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The "B and B Complex fire," Oregon, U.S.A., 2003

Mount Washington from Santiam Pass, March 2007

A surprising number of people in Central Oregon suspected that the George W. Bush team ignited the "B and B Complex" forest fire of 2003.

The fire — two fires that merged into one — served as a backdrop to the president's August 2003 speech in Redmond in which he advocated a "Healthy Forests Initiative" program.

The reason that the number of people suspecting foul play was "surprising" is that Oregon east of the Cascades was "Bush country" — conservative, Republican by default.

Or, from the White House transcript of the presidential speech in Redmond:

"Thank you. Please be seated. Thank you. You know you're in a pretty good country when you see a lot of cowboy hats out in the crowd -- (laughter and applause.)..."

But the curiously-popular view that the two fires were caused by government sabotage had a basis in the curious facts of the matter.

Bush had come to speak about "managing our forests in a better, more common-sensical way" — and the timescale of the official account of events is conspicuous and suspect.

A plaque at a roadside viewpoint on the Santiam Pass reads the verdict: "Intergovernmental fire investigators determined that the Booth and Bear Butte fires were ignited by lightning between August 4 and 7 and smoldered for several days before being detected."

The following text comes from the same plaque:

B&B Complex fire:
Burned August 19-
September 26, 2003

Thus, at the shortest interval — according to the official "intergovernmental" report — both of the fires began growing about two weeks after they'd started.

Almost two weeks. The problem, at minimum, is a woeful abuse of the term "several days." The stretch of logic, that two historic burns, ignited by two separate lightning-storms on separate days, waited for so long and then lit up within hours of each other — that's another problem.

The U.S. government's Forest Service website declares only that a lookout station and a helicopter reported each fire separately on August 19th, making no ludicrous guesses about when or how either fire began.

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