The story of the Triple Nickles being sent here to fight forest fires caused me to reminisce about the Japanese balloons that were sent to start forest fires.
In late May of 1945 I was 10 years old. My two younger brothers and I lived on the Oxbow Fish Hatchery in Cascade Locks. We witnessed a balloon pass over our home. Our parents were not there at that time. When they returned we told them what we had seen and Dad contacted the Forest Service. They told us not to tell anyone.
The next morning our Dad picked us up at school and took us to a secluded spot where we met 3 military officers. They asked what we had seen. They especially wanted to know if we had seen anything hanging down from the bottom of the balloon. The answer was no. They wanted to know if we had told anyone. Again the answer was no. They said good because this was a war secret and we were not tell anyone.
Ten days later school was out. A fire broke out about 200 feet from our house. The flames were intense and they rose to a height of about 25 feet through the tree branches. Fortunately it had rained that day. Ten gallons of water pumped onto the base of the fire had no effect and it eventually went out.
Dad notified the military. After several trips taking samples of soil, fir needles and tree bark, their analysis to us was it was a new incendiary substance they described as “jellied petroleum.”
Security about this was so important they didn’t want us to tell anyone. That included the Forest Service, the fire department or the police. We later learned the newspapers had agreed not to publish anything about these balloons until after the war because they didn’t want the Japanese to know they were successful.
Security about these balloons was so tight they told the Forest Service the balloon we saw was a weather balloon. That is what they told us initially, but since it was a special weather balloon we were not to talk about it. When we had the fire, of course they had to admit it had been a Japanese balloon. The Forest Service did know to be looking for them.
It would not have surprised me if the Triple Nickles were told they we here to fight fires and didn’t know about the balloons. Security was that tight.