The summer of 1910 was hot and dry in the northwestern United States. And on August 20-21 the nation would feel the fury and reach of nature's wrath.
Fires on the scale of 1910's were not unheard of at this time. In 1825, upwards of 3.5 million acres in the settled Northeast succumbed to fires, while in 1871, Northeastern Wisconsin witnessed the obliteration of 1.5 million acres, 1,000 deaths, and 16 towns. However, what made the fires in Idaho, Montana, and Washington unique was the fact that they originated far away from civilization, thus making containment tactics much more arduous.
During the summer of 1910, multiple fires broke out, including: Bean Creek Fire, Big Creek Fire, Clearwater Fires, Forty Nine Meadows Fire, Iron Mountain Fire, Lakeview Fire, Loop Creek Fire, Lower Clark Fork Fires, Mineral County Fires, Placer Creek Fires, St. Maries Fire, St. Joe Fire, Setzer Fire, and Trout Creek Fire. The worst fires surrounded Wallace, ID. On August 20, gale force winds reaching 70 mph pushed the fires across the parched earth into one another, forming the "Big Blowup," also known as the "Big Burn."
This being a period of high immigration, many immigrants were recruited to combat the blazes. Men were pulled off the streets and out of saloons, and were even accused of setting fires in order to stay employed. The fire season was so severe many of the Northwest units of the U.S. Army were mobilized to help, along with mining and logging workers who were accustomed to fighting fires.
After the fire died out, official reports estimated 1,736 total fires burned more than 3 million acres of private and federal land. In comparison, wildfires throughout the nation consumed roughly 5 million acres in 1910 altogether. The 1910 flames scorched an estimated 7.5 billion board feet of timber and at least 85 people were killed. Several small towns were completely decimated, and one-third of Wallace was destroyed. Smoke from the fires reached New England and San Francisco, and soot traveled all the way to Greenland.
The Big Blowup occurred only five years after the establishment of the U.S. Fire Service (U.S.F.S.). Many of the men who were involved in the 1910 fires would earn high positions in the U.S.F.S. in subsequent years. This was the catalyst for U.S.F.S. wildland fire suppression policies, which still influence fire prevention and management around the world today.