Just over a century ago, the deadliest fire in our nation’s history began in Idaho and swept through the Northwest, scorching over 3 million acres. As Idaho’s fire season rages on and thousands of firefighters, volunteers, and servicemen and women battle the blazes that are dotting the landscape, it’s important to take a moment to remember this devastating moment in Idaho history and honor those whose lives were lost.
While the high deserts of the west are always prone to wildfires, this particular year the forests were so dry that chaos ensued. Hurricane-force winds, unlike anything ever seen before, roared across landscape, igniting trees so dry that they crackled underfoot. In a matter of hours, the flames became firestorms and Idaho’s Panhandle a lighted Roman candle.
86 people died in what has come to be known as the “Big Blowup” or the “Big Burn” of 1910, most of whom were fire fighters on the front lines of the blaze. Thousands more survived, including those led by Edward Pulaski through the darkness of night to safety and shelter in a Wallace mine shaft. Today, as we walk you through the devastation of this massive historical wildfire, we’ll use modern-day blazes as a visual comparison for you to see just how destructive this inferno was in its time.
The Big Burn of 1910 had one positive outcome: it solidified the need for a U.S. Forest Service division to protect and manage fire areas, an act which has saved countless lives.
For actual footage of the Big Blowup, check out this video.
For more detailed information about this historic fire, check out American Experience’s documentary on YouTube or Netflix. But to experience history firsthand, hiking the Pulaski Trail in Wallace is a must-do for every Idahoan.
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