The Great Fire of 1910

During the summer of 1910 conditions were dry and warm across the western region of the United States as a widespread drought occured. These circumstances led to one of the largest fires recorded in American history. The massive wildfire, which engulfed parts of Idaho, Montana, and Washington in flames and burned 3 million acres worth of land, is more commonly referred to as the Big Blowup. High winds carried sparks and made firefighting efforts to contain the fire difficult. A high death toll of 78 firefighters was a marker which led the Big Blowup to be one of the single most significant events to shape the US Forest Service. The Service used to have more of a hands off-style of operation with regards to both private and public lands, with only a small force of rangers. Once it was apparent that existing strategies and policies were not working, action was taken to re-shape the department. A fire protection campaign was launched in which the mascot Smokey the Bear was created and fire suppression became the new model for America’s view on fire.

Contributed by Corrina Jones
Course: Modern Global Environmental History
Instructor: Dr. Wilko Graf von Hardenberg
University of Wisconsin–Madison, US