The Wilson Creek Fire in 1929 on the Salmon National Forest burned about 13,000 acres. Today that would hardly make headlines, but it was the largest fire the Forest had experienced at that time.
Firefighters rode in the back of trucks to get within hiking distance of the lightning-caused fire. When they piled out of the trucks, they still had 18 miles to pack all their equipment.
Earl Nichols started work as a runner that year on the Wilson Creek Fire. His job was to get instructions to each of about 8 crews who were fighting the fires. There were no radios. The country was so steep that horses were more trouble than they were worth. He made his rounds on foot, carrying messages from camp to camp as fast as he could move. More than once when he got to where the camp was supposed to be, he found only ashes. He worked the fire on foot for sixty days. It was a tough job, but it did not discourage Nichols. He retired from the Forest Service in 1969 after a 40-year career.
The Wilson Creek Fire came close to taking the lives of three firefighters, Kinney, Coles, and Wilson. The fire crowned up a hill and around them. The men clung to the side of a large boulder, keeping it between them and the flames. When the fire shifted, they worked themselves around the other side of the rock. The men doused themselves with water from their canteens. Still, the heat swelled their eyes shut.
Other fire crew members set out to find them, certain it was a recovery mission. They spotted tracks in the hot ash and followed them to where the men were staggering blindly. The rescuers led the blistered men back to camp. Most of their clothing had burned off them. They survived and regained their sight once the swelling went town.
These vignettes about the Wilson Creek Fire come from oral histories collected by the Salmon National Forest.