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Incident Name:  Big Burn or Big Blowup of 1910
Date:  August 20 and 21, 1910
Personnel:  many lives lost
Age: unknown
Agency/Organization:  US Forest Service and others
Position: varies

Summary: During the very dry summer of 1910, thousands of small lightning fires burned in northeast Washington, northern Idaho's panhandle, and western Montana's wild and virgin timberland. Some of these fires burned for months. On August 20, the passage of a cold front brought 70 mph hurricane-force Palouse winds which fanned the many small fires into a massive crown-fire conflagration that burned approximately three million acres in two days -- August 20th and 21st -- creating the largest fire in recorded US history. The area burned included parts of the Cabinet, Clearwater, Coeur d'Alene, Flathead, Kaniksu, Kootenai, Lewis and Clark, Lolo, and St. Joe National Forests. The fires killed 87 people, 78 of them firefighters.

Pulaski Mine Entrance

Pulaski's fire shelter: Mine entrance, 1910 Pulaski's fire shelter: Mine entrance, 1910

 

 

K Anderson - Coeur d'Alene NF
Venis Attene - Coeur d'Alene NF
H.W. Baker - Coeur d'Alene NF
A.M. Barrett - Cabinet NF
O. Bing - Coeur d'Alene NF
G.A. Blodgett - Coeur d'Alene NF
D. Bruno - Coeur d'Alene NF
George W. Cameron - Coeur d'Alene NF
D. Cary - Coeur d'Alene NF
William Casey - Coeur d'Alene NF
Chris Christensen - Coeur d'Alene NF
Joe Denen - Coeur d'Alene NF
Jim Denten - Coeur d'Alene NF
M. Dillo - Coeur d'Alene NF
Jimmy Donahue - Coeur d'Alene NF
Ed Dunn - Coeur d'Alene NF
Ralph Ekhoen - Coeur d'Alene NF
O. Ellefson - Coeur d'Alene NF
W.J. Elliott - Coeur d'Alene NF
George Fease - Cabinet NF
Joe Ferre - Coeur d'Alene NF
W. Flynn - Coeur d'Alene NF
Edward Frye - Coeur d'Alene NF
Patrick Grogan - Coeur d'Alene NF
Andrew Hanson - Coeur d'Alene NF
J. Harp - Coeur d'Alene NF
J. Harris - Pend Oreille NF
Jack Hill - Coeur d'Alene NF
John Hoss - Coeur d'Alene NF
Sam Hull - Coeur d'Alene NF
Harry Jackson - Coeur d'Alene NF
Gus Johnson - Coeur d'Alene NF
L. Johnson - Coeur d'Alene NF
Pat Kelley - Coeur d'Alene NF
James D. Kerney - Coeur d'Alene NF
James Kerr - Coeur d'Alene NF
William Learmouth - Coeur d'Alene NF
Lary Levar - Coeur d'Alene NF
Frank Masterson - Coeur d'Alene NF
George McGurk - Coeur d'Alene NF
Ed Miller - Coeur d'Alene NF
Ed Murphy - Coeur d'Alene NF
W.F. Norton - Coeur d'Alene NF
M. Phwiser - Coeur d'Alene NF
J.B. Plant - Pend Oreille NF
W. Polk - Coeur d'Alene NF
George Queere - Coeur d'Alene NF
James Riley - Coeur d'Alene NF
J. Rusick - Coeur d'Alene NF
Frank Sanders - Coeur d'Alene NF
Louis Shoman - Coeur d'Alene NF
H. Siphers - Coeur d'Alene NF
Frank Sketchell - Coeur d'Alene NF
George Smith - Coeur d'Alene NF
Harry Smith - Coeur d'Alene NF
Upton B. Smith- Coeur d'Alene NF
J. Stevens - Coeur d'Alene NF
George Strong - Cabinet NF
L.S. Swartz - Coeur d'Alene NF
Frank D. Swick - Coeur d'Alene NF
Glenn Taylor - Coeur d'Alene NF
M. Thuser - Coeur d'Alene NF
L. Ustelo - Coeur d'Alene NF
Oscar Weigert - Coeur d'Alene NF
E. Williams - Cabinet NF
Richard Woods - Coeur d'Alene NF

9 firefighters unidentified from the blow-up of 1910

 

  • Another Victim List with news reports and stories; includes members of fire crews, their foremen, the fire, place of death and place of internment.
  • The Injured and Dead: A Missoulian Special Section; From the Missoulian: Fifty-seven firefighters killed in the 1910 fire are buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in St. Maries, Idaho. Among the headstones are eight marked simply "Unknown." Firefighters had been gathered so quickly that crew bosses did not know all their names.
  • The Great 1910 Fires of Idaho and Montana; Day Trip Guide to Historic Sites Day Trip #1 – Idaho
  • Memorial Plaque
1910 Fire Memorial 1910 Fire Memorial

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Maps

  • Northern Region Forests where the 1910 fires burned Northern Region Forests where the 1910 fires burned

    Northern Region Forests where the 1910 fires burned

  • Areas the 1910 fires burned Areas the 1910 fires burned

    Areas across the Northern Region where the 1910 fires burned are in red.

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Historical Wildland Firefighter Fatalities 1910-1996 | A Publication of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (408 K pdf); THREE NATIONAL FORESTS
    • Date: 1910
    • ---- 1 Fire Name & Location: Coeur d'Alene, St. Joe, ID
    • # Fatalities: 72
    • Agency: USFS
    • Fire Behavior Observed: Unanticipated downslope winds on lee side of 'Sierras pushed fire into second growth with brush.
    • Remarks: Firefighters had gone downhill for water and were trapped on the road when the wind changed.

    • ---- 2 Fire Name & Location: Cabinet NF, ID
    • # Fatalities: 4
    • Agency: USFS
    • Fire Behavior Observed: SAME AS ABOVE
    • Remarks: Four men panicked in an entrapment situation, ran uphill out of a rockslide being used as a safety zone.

    • ---- 3 Fire Name & Location: Pend Oreille NF, ID
    • # Fatalities: 2
    • Agency: USFS
    • Fire Behavior Observed: SAME AS ABOVE
    • Remarks: Two men ran into the flames. Witnesses said they appeared disoriented by smoke
  • When the Mountains Roared, collection of stories and old news articles by the USDA FS (3,480 K pdf)
  • Reports and Articles from the Forest Service Centennial Website
  • Photo Gallery from the FS Centennial Website
  • People from the FS Centennial Website, includes their writings and bios
  • Photo Collection of the 1910 fires from the Forest History Society
  • New Staff Ride: 1910 Idaho Fire
  • The Fires of 1910 NIFC 2010 Fireline Safety Refresher, NIFC YouTube, Published May 9, 1910
  • The Big Burn of 1910 - a page of links to articles of the Missoulian Special Section, 90 years later
  • The Great Fire of 1910 Documentary On YouTube (30 min 47 sec), created by Travis Touchette: Summary: The story of Roosevelt, Pinchot and the early days of the Forest Service, firefighters bushwacking cross-country to find the fires, lack of communication; culture war between the anti-public conservation force in Congress and the pro-conservation Pesident; creation and future of land management and formation of policy, the 1910 fire season with need to call on logginng and mining companies and pick-up labor, US Army called in for assistance with discipline. Ed Pulaski's crew, John Bell's Crew, Debbitt's Crew, Soldiers - Black Soldiers in Avery and Wallace ID saved the towns amidst racism. Trains for evacuation. Lee Hollingshead's crew. Chapman's poem. Surviving crews, how they survived. Pinchot and Roosevelt used the fire as the launch point to save conservation. Pulaski tool, paramilitary command structure to provide leadership, bringing in outside labor forces to fight fires, debate of issues 1) do we want to fund firefighting, 2) do we want to prevent fires with Rx fire, and others, all began with the 1910 fire. Excellent documentary! Mellie
  • 6 Minutes for Safety: The Great Fires of 1910 (The Big Blowup) - August 20 - This day in history
  • Forest Fire, the largest in US history, left stories of awe, tragedy

    8/15/2010 | Online Retrospecitve Article

    Today, we can imagine the smoke – thick and suffocating. We can fathom the flames – causing mountains and towns to glow red at midnight. We can even imagine the heat, enough to peel paint off boxcars. Yet there’s one thing the survivors said was impossible for anyone to imagine: The roar.

    A forest the size of Connecticut was exploding in a fearsome whoosh – generating, with fire and oxygen, its own tornadoes and cyclones. One survivor called it “the sound of a thousand trains rushing over a thousand steel trestles.” Another said it could be compared only to the “roar of Niagara Falls.” The noise was a deafening combination of 60 mph gales, colossal fire-driven updrafts, and the clamor of hundreds of trees cracking, snapping and slamming against earth. One witness said it sounded like being in the midst of “heavy cannonading.”

    Some came to call it The Big Blowup. Others called it the Big Burn. By any name, it was easily the biggest forest fire in the Inland Northwest’s history – actually the biggest forest fire in U.S. history... (more of this historical 100th-anniversary "read" at the link)

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Wildlandfire.com Links:

 

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Media Articles and Reports.

  • The West is Burning Up!

    STORIES THE 1910 FIRE Online Article

    By Jim Petersen, Evergreen Magazine, Winter Edition 1994-1995

    It was the largest forest fire in American history. Maybe even the largest forest fire ever. No one knows for sure, but even now, it is hard to put into words what it did. For two terrifying days and night's - August 20 and 21, 1910 - the fire raged across three million acres of virgin timberland in northern Idaho and western Montana. Many thought the world would end, and for 86, it did. Most of what was destroyed fell to hurricane-force winds that turned the fire into a blowtorch. Re-constructing what happened leads to an almost impossible conclusion: Most of the cremation occurred in a six-hour period... More at the link.

  • The Big Burn: Idaho and Montana, August 1910

    Popular Mechanics Online Article

    From Page 3: Though the U.S. Forest Service came into existence in 1905, it was the "Big Burn" of 1910 that defined its mission. By the time the first flame leapt from the forest that year, the debate over whether or not to fight wildfires was already being hotly debated across the West. Some people argued that fires were part of a forest's natural evolution. But Teddy Roosevelt conservationists, who staffed the new agency, were eager to protect forests from danger — and fire, they believed, was as perilous as any clear-cut.

    The utter destruction caused by the fires of 1910, along with the heroic stand of Edward Pulaski, helped cement an antifire ideology in the Forest Service. Congress poured money into the effort and, by 1935, the head of the service — a veteran of the Big Blowup, Gus Silcox — declared that all forest fires should be extinguished by 10 am the following day. The service created its own army to fight fires, replete with ground troops to dig trenches and set backfires, elite smoke jumpers to parachute into remote areas and an air force of tankers, reconnaissance planes and helicopters.

    Even as Silcox was declaring war on wildfires, some foresters and conservationists began to question whether the policy was actually healthy for the ecosystem. Fire, it soon became clear, was an integral part of forest ecology. Yet as waves of people moved into forested areas, it became even more imperative to hold fire back...More at the link.

  • NPR: Teddy Roosevelt And The Fire That Saved The Forests Conversation with Tim Egan (audio, 30 min),

    Author of The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America

  • Other books: either entirely about the Fires of 1910 or that include stories about the fires

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • Her Fire Story

    Video from Anna Sestak Lukens (now 90) who witnessed the historic 1910 Fires in western Montana (at age 8)

  • 1910 Fire Commemoration, USFS

    Northern Region On-line Exhibit

  • Centennial Exhibit "When the Mountains Roared: The Fire of 1910

    Historical Museum at Fort Missoula

    Officially opened on March 20, 2010 and will close January 1, 2012. Museum's hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 12-5PM, until Memorial Day. After Memorial Day, hours are Monday-Saturday, 10AM-5PM, Sunday, 12-5PM. For more information call 728-3476.

  • Behind the Big Burn: Explore sights, smells of deadly 1910 fire at Fort Missoula exhibit

    Online article

    If you are looking for a yawn-filled historical exhibit to attend and some mind-numbing facts to make your eyes glaze over, don't even think about attending the new exhibit at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. The exhibit called "When the Mountains Roared: The Fire of 1910" is an interactive exhibit that engages the senses and crackles with life. More at the link.

  • 1910 Firefighter Memorial and Educational Display at Wallace, Idaho; dedicated August 21, 1910; photo at  waymarking.com

    location of the Wallace Idaho Memorial

  • Great Fires of 1910: Fatalities, Cemeteries
  • Known Gravesites  of the fallen

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Contributors to this article: Sammie for all the terrific background research; Marie for photo of Memorial.

 

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