Think about the things you love and care about. Your home, your family, your photographs that keep the memories you hold dearly, even the things you say you hate now but know you would miss if they were gone. Like the ugly photo your wife insists stays up but you deal with it because you know she loves it. Imagine all these things being taken away without your consent, while you just watch helplessly as your memories just disappear. Sadly enough, this was the reality for several families living in the North-west at the time of the 1910 fires. Some watched as the fires consumed their homes, while others came back to nothingness. This was a devastating time for everyone in the North-west and it caused a lot of controversy within the forest service about how to deal with the fires and it still influences protocol for forest service members and firefighters today.
The first recorded fire of 1910 was on April 29 in the Blackfeet National Forest ("The 1910 Fires."). However, the beginning fires weren’t at all what made this string of infernos memorable. These noteworthy fires were caused by a string of unfortunate events. An extremely dry hot year with snows melting early, streams disappearing, and rivers turning into trickles of water by August was one of the main reason for the almost 3,000 fires (Petersen). The human race prefers to point fingers though, so many people accused different individuals and groups for the fires.
Some blamed an electrical storm in July, others blamed accidental fires on campers, homesteaders and loggers, and a few blamed arsonists. What seemed to be the main cause though, was the new Chicago, Milwaukee and Puget Sound Railway. The railway ran through the then, dry, dense, forest and hot coals would burst from the trains and start fires along the tracks. Eventually, young men were hired to walk along the tracks to put the fires out, but it wasn’t as effective as it needed to be, since over 100 fires were started this way (Petersen).
All the little fires that had been started over that time had become a large problem. Every man in the North-west had become a firefighter and 4,000 troops had been sent in to help too ("The 1910 Fires."). Some say there were 1,736 fires that burned and others say 3,000 total, but any way you look at it, there was still a ton of woodland burning. On August 19 all of the fires seemed to have died down tremendously, so they sent people home, however, they had no idea what Mother Nature had planned for the next two days (Petersen).
Of course the worst comes after everyone thinks it is over. August 20th through the 21st was filled with winds as strong as tornados that swept through northern Idaho and western Montana. The winds rekindled the hot coals and the thousands of fires from the day before became one massive fire. Jim Petersen described the sights in an editorial for Evergreen Magazine in 1995; he said,
”… fires became firestorms, and trees by the millions became exploding candles....