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Big Burn Collection

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About the Fires

The spring of 1910 was ominously dry throughout Idaho, Washington, and Montana. In the Coeur d’Alene National Forest alone, U.S. Forest Service officials had been battling fires since early April. In July, a rainless electrical storm ignited even more blazes across the Northern Rockies. Bad as it was, conditions got worse.

On August 20, a “Palouser” wind whipped through the forests, creating an inferno now known as the Big Burn. The fires took the lives of nearly 90 people, leveled entire communities, burned almost 3 million acres of timber, and set US Forest Service fire policy for the next 6 decades.  

About the Collection

These materials come from the University of Idaho Library's Special Collections and Archives department. Most of the photographs are from the Barnard-Stockbridge Photograph Collection and the A.B. Curtis Collection. The telegraphs and correspondence come from the Bunker Hill Mining Collection.

Also included are a first-person history of the 1910 fires, written by Elers Koch, and a two-part (Part 1: Transcript | Recording, Part 2: Transcript | Recording) interview with Ione "Pinkie" Adair, who witnessed the fire first hand. Timothy Egan used these histories, photographs, and other materials from the Library's Special Collections & Archives department during the composition of The Big Burn, as he notes in the acknowledgements section towards the end of his book.

For additional photos and information on the fires of 1910, see this special series from the Spokesman Review.

The above video provided courtesy of
The Spokesman-Review's special series, "Flame and Ruin."

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