Little Bits of History

Thar She Blows

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 20, 2012

After the fire

August 20, 1910: The Big Blowup is whipped into existence. The summer of 1910 had been unusually hot and dry. This left the American Northwest forests with lots of combustible undergrowth. Many local fires were started by a variety of methods. Manmade causes included sparks or hot cinders from passing steam locomotives as well as backfiring crews. Lightning strikes also played a role in starting many smaller fires. By mid-August, there were between 1,000 and 3,000 small fires burning in Idaho, Montana, Washington, and British Columbia.

On this day, a cold front moved in and brought hurricane-force winds. The many small fires were whipped into one hellish inferno. The fire was impossible to fight. Technology of the time was inadequate. There were not enough men and too few supplies, as well. The National Forest Service (today called the United States Forest Service) was a mere five years old and unprepared for the dry summer and resulting fires.

The conflagration raged and smoke was said to be seen as far east as Watertown, New York and as far south as Denver, Colorado. Ships as far away as 500 miles out to sea could not navigate by stars at night due to the smoky skies. In all, about 3,000,000 acres were burned during this fire also called the Big Burn or the Great Fire of 1910.

The fire storm burned for two days and killed 87 people, 78 of them firemen. The entire 28-man “Lost Crew” was lost near Avery, Idaho. One forest ranger, Ed Pulaski, led his men to safety in an abandoned mine. When one man started to panic and wanted to leave the mine, Pulaski threatened to shoot the first man who tried. He saved 35 of his 40 men. Several towns were completely destroyed by fire and many on trains had harrowing experiences – hiding in tunnels to escape the flame. Thankfully, another cold front came through, this time bringing drenching rains. This fire altered (for good or ill – this is currently under debate) the Forest Service’s attitude toward all wildfires.

I’d rather fight 100 structure fires than a wildfire. With a structure fire you know where your flames are, but in the woods it can move anywhere; it can come right up behind you. – Tom Watson

A woodland in full color is awesome as a forest fire, in magnitude at least, but a single tree is like a dancing tongue of flame to warm the heart. – Hal Borland

As a single withered tree, if set aflame, causes a whole forest to burn, so does a rascal son destroy a whole family. – Chanakya

I am as frustrated with society as a pyromaniac in a petrified forest. – A. Whitney Brown

Also on this day:

Boom Record – In 1882, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture premieres.
Floyd’s Bluff – in 1804, the Lewis and Clark Expedition suffered its only fatality.
Disgruntled Worker – In 1986, Patrick Sherrill kills 14 at the Edmond post office.

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  1. Bobby Dias said, on August 20, 2012 at 10:11 am

    Before the official opening of Disneyland there was a 3-man union that was keeping Disneyland shut with a very high extortion demand. Not having the money to pay Walt asked me for help. I scared those union bullies away with a truck that screamed like the Devil himself. As a backup plan I had arranged for dozens of communities, including Los Angeles, to turn their lights on at my signal from Disneyland(I had someone sneak in to turn on Disneyland’s lights), it was in the evening. The resulting million or more car headlights(not those puny things of today) and house lights and city and business lights were reported seen in Hawaii and up in Canada and as far east as Kansas City. The lights were part of the plan- the real important part was the million and a half people that decended into the open gates of Disneyland that night. Those union’s baseball bats would have been no match for these people wanting to see their new pride and joy- Disneyland.

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