WALLACE, Idaho --August 21 marks the 100 year anniversary of one of the most destructive and deadly wildfires in Idaho's history.
Saturday in Wallace, Idaho, Governor Butch Otter spoke at a centennial tribute to the victims and survivors of the Great Fires of 1910. The Forest Service also dedicated a new monument to the firefighters taken in the blaze.
KTVBtalked to a historian about the Great Fires of 1910, what they took from this state and what people learned from those fateful days a century ago.
On August 20th, 1910, the fires basically blew up, said historian Travis Touchette. Hurricane force winds of over 70 miles an hour suddenly converged on the fire and caught 10,000 people that were out on the firelines basicallyby surprise.
The Fires of 1910 in northern Idaho and western Montana killed 78 firefighters and burned over 3 million acres in just a day and-a-half.
Back in 1910, we obviously didn't have weather forecasts, we didn't have fire weather forecasts, and so folks out on the firelines didn't know this storm was coming down on them, until it was already upon them, said Touchette, who is also aForestry Technician at the National Interagency Fire Center.Touchette created a documentary about the horrific fires.
The fire front was over 30 to 50 miles wide, and with the 70 mile per hour winds pushing those fires, it was really gobbling up a lot of country in a hurry, Touchette said. It was just no way people get could out of there fast enough.
With the Forest Service established just a few years earlier, it was one of the first times firefighters actually went into the wilderness to fight fires. They didn't have the luxury of radio communication, choppers or trucks.
They had shovels, axes, cross-cut saws, Touchette said. They'd use burlap sacks. They'd wet the burlap sacks for what they'd call, 'beating the fire.' Pretty primitive tools, but at the same time, a lot of the same similar tools that we use today in fighting fire.
But while the Fires of 1910 were deadly and destructive, they also served a purpose.
According to Touchette, The 1910 Fires served as a basis for how we fight fire today, how we support our fires today. And, how to improve from this point forward.
Coming into this summer, experts said many of the ingredients were there for another terrible fire season on the 100 year anniversary of the worst fire season in the state. But luckily, to this point, the fire season iswell below those projections.