“Big Blowup” Webpage Marks Centennial of 1910 Fires

By James Lewis on May 4, 2010

On August 20-21, 1910, fires driven by gale-force winds consumed 3 million acres, several towns, and at least 85 lives in the Montana, Idaho, and Washington. Known as either “The Big Blowup” or “The Big Burn,” no other event in U.S. Forest Service history has had a greater impact on the agency. While heroes were made and legends were born, the incident changed the agency forever. Fighting wildfires became a major focus if not obsession of many in the agency. In the immediate aftermath, agency leaders argued that if they had more men, matériel, and money, they could have stopped this fire and could in the future, if properly equipped, stamp out forest fires, an argument that soon prevailed and came to dominate fire policy and research. Those who argued that fires in the back country should be allowed to burn were marginalized or ignored. The event’s legacy still casts a shadow today.

The Forest History Society is marking the centennial of the 1910 fires with a webpage dedicated to preserving and presenting the history of that seminal event. Many documents being made available are hard-to-find articles written by the men who lived through the fire and were deeply affected by it. Men like Ed Pulaski, William Greeley, “Gus” Silcox, Elers Koch, and E.T. Allen, to name a few.

A sampling of images from the FHS collection relating to the Big Blowup. Images include newspaper clippings, photos of the fire-ravaged land, and of Ed Pulaski.

Drawing from the extensive holdings of the Forest History Society, our crack staff has created a new section of our U.S. Forest Service History webpages about the history and legacy of the 1910 Fires under the Famous Fires section. On the Big Blowup page you will find an overview essay of the event and numerous items such as:

  • a firsthand account of the ordeal by Ed Pulaski and others
  • historical documents, photographs, and maps
  • PDFs of books and essays that place the event in historical context
  • reflections on the fire’s impact on land management and fire policy
  • an original essay by fire historian Stephen Pyne, author of Year of the Fires
  • a bibliography of books and articles about the Big Blowup