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August 20-21 Marks 100th Anniversary of the "Big Blowup"


Do you know what event occurred 100 years ago that has been dubbed the "Big Blowup"? It resulted in major changes in the approach to both a natural phenomenon and man-made catastrophes that affect public lands and private property all over the world.

The "Big Blowup" refers to a series of wildland fires that devastated portions of Idaho, Montana and Washington State; over 3 million acres burned, 85 people were killed, and several towns were destroyed during the conflagrations on August 20-21, 1910.

According to the NPS Office of Fire and Aviation Management, "The impacts of this two-day event were felt for half of the Twentieth Century in fire protection policy, and especially affected the newly established U.S. Forest Service." During the succeeding years, those same policies have had a major impact on the National Park Service and other land management agencies.

Those changes in the approach to fire management are still occurring today, and how we should view and deal with wildfires continues to be a topic of considerable debate. The "Big Blowup" and a timeline about fire management are featured today as one of the rotating photos and stories on the home page of the NPS website, as well as on the Fire and Aviation Management website.

If you'd like a quick overview of the history of fire management, that site is a good resource. The "Big Blowup" is a reminder that practices of the past often left much to be desired, and perhaps a caution that we still don't have all the answers when it comes to wildland fires.


For a great read about the "Big Blow Up" and the history of the Forest Service get "The Big Burn" by Timothy Egan.

For the outline of the heroic story of fire crew leader Ed Pulaski's desperate retreat to a mine tunnel refuge:
This site near Wallace, Idaho and a two-mile commemorative trail are on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Nearby, one can still see some of the "Ghost Cedars" resulting from this incredible conflagration:

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