© 2023 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
KSOR Header background image 1
a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

As It Was: Pigeons Join Battle Against Wildfires in 1919

A headline in the Aug. 31, 2019, edition of the Medford, Ore., Mail Tribune declared, “Jackson County dodges lightning strikes.”  An adjacent headline read, “Homing Pigeons To Aid Planes Fighting Fires.” 
The story about the pigeons was drawn from the Mail-Tribune’s archives from 100 years ago.

The juxtapositioning of the two stories emphasized that summer wildfires have always plagued Southern Oregon and Northern California, but that firefighting techniques have changed with the times.

The archive story said some birds from a flock of 50 homing pigeons attached to the Eugene base of the federal airplane forest fire patrol would be moved to Medford for carrying messages from aviators reporting forest fires and fire-related airplane accidents or pilot injury.

The City of Bend, Ore., reported it was assigning a pigeon to each of its wildfire crews, noting the birds’ high rate of speed would “make it possible to send messages by air with very little loss of time.”

Even today, pigeons in competitive racing have covered 1,100 miles in a single flight. Their average speed is 60 mph at more moderate distances and 100 mph over short distances.

Sources: "March 1919: Homing pigeons used to send messages from fire fighters to base." The Bulletin, 10 Mar. 2019 [Bend, Ore.], www.bendbulletin.com/localstate/6981138-151/march-1919-homing-pigeons-used-to-send-messages. Accessed 4 Sept. 2019; "Mail Tribune 100: Aug. 31, 1919 HOMING PIGEONS TO AID PLANES FIGHTING FIRES.” Mail Tribune, 31 Aug. 2019 [Medford, Ore.], local/State, p. A2.

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.