USA — There’s simply no comparison between the beautiful summer weekend we just enjoyed and its counterpart 100 years ago, when Western Montana and Northern Idaho were devastated by the worst wildfire in U.S. History.
But hundreds of people arranged their schedules to pause and pay tribute to those who gave their lives in the disaster, and still stand by to protect us every summer.
“This fire has been compared to a nuclear explosion. It is said to have traveled at 60 to 70 miles per hour on August 20th. Imagine a car driving at 60 miles per hour and then try to image a forest fire traveling at that same speed,” Shoshone County Commissioner Jon Cantamessa commented.
“Death and destruction had joined hands and visited Wallace,” added U.S. Forest Service National Fire Director Tom Harbor.
Those were just some of the sobering observations shared Saturday, as hundreds gathered in Wallace, Idaho to mark the centennial of the “Big Blowup”, the 1910 fire resulting in a fearsome combination of forest fires and hurricane force winds.
Wallace was one of several towns in the region remembering the tragedy, which killed at least 80 people and destroyed homes, businesses and more than 3,000,000 acres of our forest.
In Wallace and the Silver Valley, the stories remain especially close to the surface, due in large part to the figure of Ed Pulaski, the ranger who invented the Pulaski fire tool that summer, which is still in use today, saving most of his terrified crew by hiding in a mine.
But Pulaski is said to have died a bitter man, upset about how the government forgot the victims of the fires. Author Tim Egan feels the weekend ceremonies helped to close that wound.
“It’s my belief seeing how this valley has responded, how the Forest Service has responded, how the people of the Pacific Northwest, who have a young history but love their history have responded. That we have now given those dead the honor they deserve. As I said, we have very few statues here. But we now have this Silver Valley, on this 100th anniversary it is part of our hallowed ground.”
Following a moment of silence, was the unveiling of a new monument honoring the firefighters, individuals and Buffalo Soldiers who fought so valiantly that summer, capped with a patriotic salute on the hillsides that had burned so fiercely that night.