The fire of 1910

It devastated communities, claimed lives and changed forest management

Fires have always been a part of Idaho’s forests, whether natural or human-caused. In fact, fire historically played an important role in maintaining forest health, particularly in dry pine-type and high elevation forests.  Periodic, low-intensity ground fires served to reduce underbrush and forest density.

The ferocity of the fire of 1910 caused devastation to this North Idaho forest.   Photo courtesy of Idaho Historical Society digital archive.

In August of 1910, fires burning in northern Idaho blew up into a massive conflagration, generating hurricane-force winds that sent flames roaring and jumping through northern Idaho and western Montana, destroying more than three million acres of forestland and killing 86 people in just two days.  As a result of that fire and other massive wildfires across the country—burning up to 50 million acres annually in the early 1900s – Congress assigned fire suppression responsibilities to the Forest Service.

Learn more about “The Big Burn” in a documentary from PBS’s American Experience. Watch now.

The town of Wallace, Idaho was completely destroyed by the fire.  Photo courtesy of Idaho Historical Society digital archive.