The Great Fire Of 1910 And How It Shaped Modern Forest Management, Wildland Firefighting

1910 Fire

Wildfires have always been a devastating force throughout the world. However, none have been so vast as the Great Fire of 1910. The vast fire burned across multiple states, charring 3 million acres. It was the driest year on record with no spring rains, and all the snow had already melted.

Devastating Fire

Many of the fires were thought to be started by coal-powered locomotives, though there were also talk loggers accidentally starting fires. Of course, there was also arson, thought to be started by transient firefighters.

In August, there was barely any water left in rivers, and streams were dry. Lightning started fires in Northern Idaho, but the most devasting events happened in about six hours.

Somewhere between 1,736 and 3,000 fires were burning in Idaho and Montana. Then, in the afternoon on August 20th, the fires began to burn out of control. Hurricane-force winds kicked in. The fires turned into firestorms, consuming everything in their wake. A survivor of the ordeal said, “The fire turned trees into weird toches that exploded like Roman candles.”

Smoke took over from Saskatoon, Canada, to Denver and Watertown, New York. Even ships that were 500 miles offshore were not able to see the stars. Soot was falling on the ice in Greenland.

Temps and winds fell on the 22nd, and on the 23rd, rain began to fall, and the higher elevation saw some long-awaited snowfall. The new moisture helped stop the flames in their tracks.

Picking Up The Pieces

When all was said and done, 86 people lost their lives in the Big Blowup. The majority of them were front-line firefighters.

In an act of bravery, Ranger Edward Pulaski saved the majority of his 45-man mining crew by leading them through a canyon in the dark. The timber loss was colossal.

It was estimated that there was enough wood burned to build 800,000 homes. Entire towns were lost. Wallace, Idaho, fell directly in the path of the fire, and its people fled on trains. Some stayed in an attempt to save homes and businesses.

The eastern end of the town ended up burning. The flames were so hot that the glass melted and metal bent. The only thing left standing was the brick.

The incident influenced fire fighting policy throughout the nation and had a hand in how forest management was handled.

Sources: 1, 2

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