Huge western fires in 1910 changed U.S. wildfire policy. Will today’s conflagrations do the sam…

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As vast and fast wildfires continue to spread almost unprecedented destruction across America’s three Pacific states, fire scientists, meteorologists and journalists have begun comparing the conflagrations to one firestorm 110 years ago. “Nationally, this is probably the biggest wildfire event since the Big Blowup of 1910,” Nick Nauslar, a meteorologist with the National Interagency Fire Center, told the Washington Post, “and it rivals the past fire season in Australia.” Stuart Palley, a photographer who specializes in covering California wildfires, tweeted:  “I agree with other fire reporters and behavior analysts that this event will exceed the Big Blowup Of 1910 in terms of severity and acreage. Seen a lot of fire but surreal to witness this.” The story of the Big Blowup is as iconic to the founding of the U.S. Forest Service as Paul Revere’s ride is to the birth of the nation.  But while comparisons to that historic fire are inevitable as wildfires burn out of control in California, Oregon and Washington, what’s less clear is whether those blazes will bring about the same lasting change in the way the nation fights wildfires. That would require focusing far more resources on prescribed burns, as well as controls on development and a concerted national and global effort to make forests more resilient to climate change.  “If California moves, the rest of the American wildland fire establishment will move with it,” said Stephen Pyne, America’s preeminent fire historian. “Will it happen now?  The fires are big, but so is the pandemic, and the election, and the economic crisis. Will the fires lead to change? It depends on who controls the narrative” and whether the fires have been “hijacked for other agendas.” ‘The boss is dead’ The Big Blowup took place in August 1910: Hundreds of wildfires exploded over an area the size of Connecticut in the Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho and Montana. Roiling waves of flames hundreds of feet tall trapped Big Ed Pulaski, a ranger with the fledgling U.S. Forest Service, and the 43 men he was leading in the fight against the inferno. With minutes to save his crew from incineration, Pulaski led the men into a mine shaft in the woods. He ordered them to lay on the floor of the tunnel and hung wet blankets at the entrance to keep out the flames. When smoke filled the shaft, some of the men panicked and tried to run back out. Pusaski pulled his pistol and held his crew at gunpoint until they all fell unconscious in the smoke. When they came to, one of the firefighters saw Pulaski lying at the mouth of the shaft and announced “the boss is dead.” “Like hell he is,” was Pulaski’s famous response. The mouth of the JIC Tunnel where Ranger Big Ed Pulaski and his men took cover during the 1910 fire known as the Big Blowup. (R.H. McKay, Coeur d’Alene National Forest, USFS) All but five members of Pulaski’s crew survived, but a third of the nearby town of Wallace, Idaho, where he and much of his crew lived, burned to the ground. After the fire, Pulaski’s injuries prevented him from working the woods as he once had, but that didn’t prevent him from making another lasting contribution to the nation’s firefighting efforts. Recognizing that there were no specialized tools to fight wildfires, he welded an axe to a hoe. The “Pulaski” remains the cornerstone tool on any fireline in the United States, including those currently burning on the West Coast.  But with the current wildfires, other aspects of the Big Blowup’s legacy loom even larger.  The ’10 a.m. policy’ for fighting wildfire More than any other blazes in the nation’s history, the fires of 1910 determined the future of wildland firefighting and forest management in the United States, to some degree because it was the first such disaster to dominate national news.  The smoke from the more than 1,700 fires darkened the skies as far away as New England and peppered glaciers of Greenland with soot. The blazes burned more than three million acres of land, killed at least 85 people and destroyed entire towns. It isn’t surprising that the conflagration would lead the nation to see the fight against wildfires as a battle between good and evil—part of what American philosopher William James called “the moral equivalent of war” when he suggested that the nation’s youth be conscripted into an “army enlisted against nature.” What is surprising is how the changes brought about b…

By: Kirlin Dennis
Title: Huge western fires in 1910 changed U.S. wildfire policy. Will today’s conflagrations do the sam…
Sourced From: www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRN_7Kg9qbI

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