Mysterious Fire Raging 4,000 Years Ago Still Burning, Researcher Finds

The granddaddy of wildfires in the Western U.S. — the Tohono O’odham Cultural Complex fire — has been raging 4,000 years in the Earth.

A journal published in 2015 by a group of scientists found that the fire, which started in 1947, had been burning since about 600 B.C.

The fire was able to spread rapidly, and the trees evolved in response to that fire.

Scientists think fires like the Tohono O’odham Cultural Complex fire allow trees to adapt to make themselves fire resistant.

Read the original New York Times report.

By New York Times Staff Writer Stephanie Mencimer

In December 1947, Hilda Mangano Atencio awoke to the fire alarm of a fire raging through the Tohono O’odham Cultural Complex in Ocotillo, Calif. At first she thought it was a prank.

But over the next two days the flames would become one of the largest wildfires in American history, and the trail of destruction they left behind reached a total of 5,000 acres and leveled homes, a hotel and a cemetery.

“Every time I see something like this, I’m back where I was,” said Ms. Atencio, now 82, who lived with her husband at the complex during the fire.

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