I’ll give you a brief outline today, mostly because I ran across a series of exceptional photos on the Forest History Society site. For the complete story I recommend The Big Burn, by Timothy Egan.
The fire burned over two days, August 21 and 22 of 1910, incinerating 3 million acres in Washington, Montana, British Columbia, and Idaho. Even though fires have been growing in size in recent years, it remains the largest forest fire in the United States.
By mid-August that year there were more than a thousand fires burning in the drought-stricken Pacific Northwest. They started from a variety of sources including cinders from locomotives, campfires gone rogue, and lightening. Bad as that was, the multiple fires would become one big monster on August 20, when hurricane force winds blew through the region.
The Big Burn killed 87 people. To their peril, firefighters tried to stop it. An entire crew of 28 men lost their lives near Avery. In all, 78 firefighters perished. In desperation forest ranger Ed Pulaski led his 45-man crew into an abandoned mine tunnel to escape the flames. It was so hot and smoky in there that several men tried to go back outside. Pulaski pulled his gun on them to force them to stay. Five died in the tunnel, but the rest survived. The old War Eagle mine tunnel, south of Wallace, is now known as the Pulaski Tunnel, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. About a third of the town of Wallace was destroyed by the fire.