One Great Fire, A Lasting Impact on Fire Service

The Great Fire of 1910

The Great Fire of 1910 is known for being one of the largest forest fires in the history of the United States. The fire was often referred to as the “Big Blowup,” the “Big Burn,” or the “Devil’s Broom Fire.” The harmful results of the fire had a significant impact on the importance of forest fire control in the United States.

The particularly dry conditions during the summer of 1910 created a scenario that led to the intensity of the fire. Due to the harsh dry-spell, the forests were extremely vulnerable to catching fire. The causes of prior, less severe fires during the summer came from trains, lightning, sparks, etc. By mid-August, it was estimated there were approximately one to three thousand smaller wild fires throughout the states of Idaho, Montana, and Washington, and parts of British Columbia. As a result of a cold front traveling across these areas, the individual fires combined to create one large inferno.

At the time, the United States Forest Service had only been established five years and was not prepared to deal with a massive forest fire extending across the three states. Overwhelmed by the size of the fire, the new agency reached out to President Taft. He sent four thousand soldiers to assist in extinguishing the fire. The fire lasted for two days, August 20th to 21st, then terminated when another cold front came through the area, bringing with it a great amount of rainfall.

The Great Fire of 1910

The massive fire caused eighty-seven deaths, burned approximately three million acres of forests, and destroyed several towns. During this time period, a debate on whether or not to interfere with nature’s forest fires was present in the U.S.; however, it was quickly put to rest after the Great Fire of 1910. As a result of the mass destruction, new fire prevention and suppression policies were established through the U.S. Forest Service. Despite the negative impact of The Great Fire of 1910, it did help establish the foundation for the U.S. Forest Service. The agency received more funding to use for research and hiring more employees. This resulted in the agency being more prepared for situations such as this in the future.

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