Fire Siege of 1987 Remembered

Happy Camp “87 fire by Jim Waddell Happy Camp “87 Fire by Kerry Waddell

20th Anniversary of Fire Siege ’87

The above photos of Happy Camp during the ’87 fires are by Jim Waddell and Kerry Waddell respectively. Thank you for sharing the photos with Happy Camp News readers!

Just two days before Labor Day, 1987, after a summer of rainless heat had baked the woods to kindling, over 11,000 lightning strikes hit and the western states began to burn. During the following 8 weeks the worst fires in nearly 100 years devastated 9 states, including 1,300 square miles in California and Oregon. The wildfire devastation included 406 square miles of the Klamath National Forest and became known as “Fire Siege ’87”.

During the first week of the fires 1,274 people were involved with fighting 20,675 acres of wildfires on the Klamath National Forest. By the eighth week 75 wildfires had burned a total of 258,764 acres, or 15%, of the 1.7 million land base of the Klamath National Forest.

The lives of three firefighters were claimed by “Fire Siege ’87” on the Klamath National Forest. Heavy smoke trapped by temperature inversions plagued firefighters and rural residents for weeks on end. Firefighters from across the country, including U.S. military, federal,  state and county agencies, as well local residents joined forces to combat the fires. At the peak some 8,003 people battled the wildfires.

The parallels between “Fire Siege ’87” and the recent China-Back and Elk Complexes are impressive,  stated Forest Supervisor Peg Boland. “It takes all of us working together to manage a major fire suppression incident. The help we recently experienced is an excellent example of working together to successfully achieve a common goal that benefited the communities as well as National Forest natural resources.”


  • Bill

    Another historical event added to the mountains of evidence, disproving the “Chicken Little” Global Warming and Global Freezing mob.

  • Nate

    Does anyone hae pictures that were taken during the fires of ’87. Would like to have some copied online for memories sake.

  • Nate

    Thanks for the photos that Jim Waddell and Kerry Waddell shared of the “87 Fire in Happy Camp.

  • pablo cuevas jimenez

    I was a young man working for the Nezperce National Forest in the years of 1986 and 1987 when i got the call to flight from Lewiston, Idaho to Redding, California,with the forest fire crew. The rest was a living nightmare that I will never forget!

  • Ellen :"Petey" Petersen

    Thank you Pablo, and other fire fighters who have come from far and away, as well as those near at hand, for rescue of our home in Happy Canp! You are rememberered and we are grateful!
    It is beauriful and we love our life here, but like every other place on this earth there are dangers and catastrophe, met with courage!

  • Darren Guillaume

    Was a member of the California Army National Guard providing medical support to those working the line at Happy Camp. My tent was just 150′ from the mess tent.

    Still have a cough to this day. And I still think it was worth the injury knowing I also helped so many people working the line. Only wish I could have done more.

    • Tom

      I know you wrote that a looooong time ago, but I believe I was there also. I was a member of Co. C, 340th Support Bn. Out of Manhattan Beach. It was quite an experience.

  • Paul L. Crooks

    I found among my Dad’s effect a Siege of 87 pin that also says Pacific Southwest Region.

  • Corbin

    I remember the daytime sky in Seiad was so dark from the smoke that the sun was hard to see and dark red.

  •, Editor

    Things have been bad in Seiad Valley the past week also! Thank goodness that Seiad Valley seems safe, for now!
    Some evacuated to the Siskiyou golden Fair Grounds, but most stayed. The smoke was in Happy Camp also but is much lighter now.

  • Ron Anderson

    Hello, i have a “Siege of 87” pin.. I arrived on the first evening in Happy Camp as a felling boss -flew over from Carson to Yreka then on over.

    Was around the first fatality as well sadly.. In the previous 14 yrs i had been in the USFS, it was the most fire i had ever seen at once.

    Flying over it looked as though the state had been nuked repeatedly. We flew over smoke jumpers that were running down a ridge as their canopys melted in a small but rapidly growing blaze.

    I knew i was in for a “stint” ! Lovely place that Happy Camp! Hope she never sees another “Siege of 87”..

  • Demian Ingerman

    I remember Fighting this fire. I was 18 at the time and was a seasonal firefighter with California Dept. of forestry. CDF station #34 Kelsey-Cobb.

  • Robert delk

    Hello, I can remember the fires from then. We had over 7,000 firefighters in happy camp which was way more the number of peopleliving there. My brother and I were promoted to squad bosses.
    Our crews were called the klammath casuals, dont let the word mislead you. We went out and work with hot shots from Los padres hot shots and the nortorious appache hotshots and we worked everyday withem and we were told that our crews should be promoted to hot shot two crews were there til after xmas holidays. I was a different experience daily and kept it exciting my best friend on the crew was bob Crowder.

  • clarence beerman

    i was a sophmore in high and some friends went to help fight this was scary.i lived in yreka ca

  • Sandy Murphey -Northern CA, USA

    Does anyone know if the RedCross rebuilt any homes following this disaster?

  • Anthony Momsen

    I was on an OES Strike Team From the Redding area. I was stationed at Anderson Calif. ‘The sun never came out the 7 days we were there. The smoke was so thick it was inside homes and businesses while we were there. You just could not get away from it. When we did leave many of us were sick . The strike Team Leader was so sick he had to have a driver as he could not.

  • Chuck Marshall

    I was a Fire Apparatus Engineer with CDF at the time assigned to the Siskiyou Unit. I spent 46 straight days on duty fighting various fires on the KNF. These were some of the worse fires and conditions a person could imagine. The smoke was so thick in the Happy Camp portion of the KNF that the temperature barely made it into the 40’s at twelve noon. I to spent months after the fires were out paying the price health wise. I was on various prescribed meds to combat lung and sinus issues. I worked side by side with some of the finest Fire Fighters from all over the U.S. They were from New Jersey, Arizona, Montana and all over Ca. just to name a few. The nasty twist to this story is the fact I lost my home and town of Paradise to the Camp fire in 2018. A person just never knows. To all my firefighting brothers & sisters, stay the course and keep the faith.

  • William Kuntz

    I was on the seige for 30 days, got CO2 poisoning, evacted to a lodge out of the smoke, recovered and went back to work. Worst situation in my career. Oh and thanks for globe warming comment at the start of the piece, by the way

  • Carl LeBlanc

    I was conducting Convoy Escort out of Los Alamitos Armed Forces Reserve Center all the way up to Fresno with the 40th Military Police Company. We would escort the Firefighters and support vehicles and provide security and traffic control up to Fresno, then turn around and escort returning Firefighters and support back down the coast. We did this for 2 weeks. I was a young Private E-2 (single stripe) fresh out of Basic. They called our mission: “Operation Wild Fire” and we received honorary patches from the Forest Service. It was a great honor and I still remember the pride I felt protecting these heroes.

  • Deral. Bookout

    Smokey Bear hotshot over 100 days ca. Landed in Ontario ca to bear lake and headed north . Happy Camp,Jim’s creek , We were all over we got 2 days off in Redding some guy wore fire shirt to bar got knifed. 100 days 2 days off . N M Gil’s wilderness 56 hr shift killer . I remember 86,87 verry well I dream of fire from 1977 demon park north rim Grand Canyon .
    Hot Shots we started where dozers stopped. Biggest 4th of July for me. Oregon night shifts. hear tree falling all night. Jim’s creek 46hr hump your butt off . Our 180 day gig ran us out 220 days . Spent Nov in Kentucky ,Tennessee .

  • Richard Thornhill

    I still have my Siege of 87 green pin, all firefighter were sent one by about December of ’87. That year spend 21 days near Yosemite NP – Grizzley, Ham and Larson fires – ICP Buck Meadows, Groveland, Ca. Then later after about a week back home, sent to Forks of the Salmon on the Yellow and Hotelling fires, another 21 days.

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