Great Fire of 1910

Official reports after the Big Blowup estimated that 1,736 total fires burned more than 3 million acres of private and federal land and consumed an estimated 7.5 billion board feet of timber.

At least 85 people were killed. Several small towns were completely destroyed, and one-third of Wallace was burned. Smoke from the fires reached New England and soot travelled all the way to Greenland. Nationally, wildfires in 1910 consumed more than 5 million acres. The Lake States region saw its worst fire season ever, with more than a million acres lost.

All backfiring, trenching and other schemes failed against the determined strength of Mother Nature. A powerful, raging wind blew embers and smokes into a raging inferno near Elk City, Idaho in the afternoon of August 20. Before it was spent, it drove thousands from their homes, decimated Wallace, Idaho as well as burgs and camps on both sides of the Bitterroot Mountains, destroyed as much as $13.5 million in property and approximately 1,280,000 acres of timber and killed 85 people.

[the flames were] fanned by a tornadic wind so violent that the flames flattened out ahead, swooping to earth in great darting curves, truly a veritable red demon from hell.”

— Edward G. Stahl, forester and survivor of the Great Fire of 1910

Then, on Saturday afternoon, August 20, all hell broke loose. Hurricane-force winds, unlike anything seen since, roared across the rolling Palouse country of eastern Washington and on into Idaho and Montana forests so dry they crackled underfoot In a matter of hours, fires became firestorms, and trees by the millions became exploding candles. Millions more, sucked from the ground, roots and all, became flying blowtorches. It was dark by four in the afternoon, save for wind-powered fireballs that rolled from ridgetop to ridgetop at seventy miles an hour. They leaped canyons a half-mile wide in one fluid motion. Entire mountainsides ignited in an instant.