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The 1910 Wildfire Debacle*

Author(s): Stephen F. Arno
Year Published: 2021

n August 1910, wildfires swept through 3 million acres (1.6 million ha) of heavily forested mountain country in northern Idaho and adjacent Montana. About 85 people perished in the flames, and the Forest Service’s fire protection program was caught short. DISASTER AND HEROISM In 1910, the fledgling Forest Service— established in 1905—had few experienced firefighters. To fill crews, Forest Service fire bosses hired day laborers from towns like Coeur d’Alene, ID, and Missoula, MT, sometimes rounding them up from saloons. Inexperienced and ill-equipped men were pressed into service on the firelines, including many who had inadequate clothing and no boots or gloves. Scores died in the mountains, trapped by the firestorm. The civilian death toll would have been higher except for the Buffalo Soldiers, thousands of Black soldiers from the 25th Infantry Regiment stationed at Fort Missoula who helped fight fires during the Big Blowup. Troops lit a backburn that saved the isolated town of Avery ID (USDA Forest Service, n.d.). From Avery and other towns, engineers ran trains through the flaming forest to carry trapped Idaho residents eastward into Montana using the trestles and tunnels of the Milwaukee Railroad.(more)

Citation: Arno SF. 2021. The1910 Wildfire Debacle. 2021. Fire Management Today 79 (4): 27-29.
Topic(s): Fire Behavior, Extreme Fire Behavior, Fire History
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 23949
Record updated: Jan 3, 2022