When Oregon forest rangers first responded to a fire in a remote part of the state in 2014, they found it was a brush fire, the size of a quarter.
The firefighters didn’t realize how much the fire had burned and called the blaze a wildfire.
“We just assumed it was an inferno,” says Jeff McKeown, a forest ranger with the Oregon Forest Service, now a member of the National Advisory Council on Fire Risk Management.
“That’s why we had to get the word out.
We had to tell people to watch out.”
The next year, the same kind of fire was reported in another remote forest, the N.C. Forest Service says, but it was so small that it was classified as a wildfire in Oregon and a fire near Lake Oswego, the second largest city in Oregon.
“The forest was already burning, and this fire was so much bigger,” McKeough says.
“But the forest was so busy, they were so scared, they couldn’t even get out the fire extinguisher.”
And it was the end of May, so there was no more smoke to burn, McKeaugh said.
“It was a total mess.
It was a complete disaster.”
That was the beginning of the end for the forest fire.
Since the beginning, McLean has been documenting the wildfire’s devastating effects on his land.
He’s filmed dozens of people in the field.
He has photographed thousands of fires and the destruction they left behind.
He was on the scene in Oregon’s Klamath Mountains in August when a forest fire tore through a remote section of the area.
“There’s just a lot of stuff there, and I’m so grateful to be here,” McLean says.
In the last year, he’s been documenting other forest fires across Oregon, and the state has seen its own forest fires.
The state’s forest fires have caused more than $4 billion in property damage, and more than 8,000 people have died.
The last major fire to hit Oregon was the Klamah Mountains Fire of 2016, which destroyed about 3,500 homes.
The Klamahs are the westernmost point in Oregon, a remote swath of land between the Cascade Mountains and the Columbia River, and about 25 miles north of Portland.
In 2015, a small fire on the Kampus River triggered a devastating wildfire that killed more than 300 people and damaged more than 1,000 homes.
“A lot of people would have probably died if they were not able to escape,” McLeod says.
And, McLeod adds, “The biggest loss is the community.
You lose everything.
You’re losing everything in a fire.”
McLean was one of the lucky ones.
“My husband and I were lucky,” McLay said, laughing.
He and his wife were on vacation in New Zealand, when they heard a crackling noise and saw flames on a hillside.
They raced to the scene, but the flames were still there, McLay says.
The flames were so large that they were causing damage that would have taken years to repair.
They found the two women in their home, he says, who had been caught in the blaze.
“They were in complete shock, but they were able to get away,” Mclean says.
They’re still living in their charred home.
McLean and his family are now working with the National Park Service and the federal government to try and recover as much of their property as possible.
They want to know what went wrong.
“I just want to get back to that day and that night and get that piece of property back,” Mc Lay says.
He says he hopes the fire’s legacy lives on.
“And I hope it can inspire other people to try to do what they can to make sure their land is protected and their homes are protected,” he says.
McLay hopes the forest fires of the past will become a cautionary tale for people to learn from, as they attempt to prevent future forest fires that could be devastating to their home or family.
“When it comes to the forest, you can be reckless, you’re a fool, you don’t know what you’re doing,” McLays says.
It’s not a new lesson.
In 2012, a similar wildfire in California’s Mendocino National Forest killed more that 3,600 people.
The fire that burned that year was the deadliest in modern times.
The National Park service estimates that the number of people who died is more than double the number who died in all of 2015.
“This fire was more of a warning,” McKeely says.
For years, the Forest Service has been studying the forest wildfires and how they could be prevented, but now the agency is also conducting a new, comprehensive study of the fire.
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” McMealy says.