Because 1910 was an unusually dry year, the sparks from steam engines and lightning strikes set between 1,000 and 3,000 fires in Idaho, Montana and Washington. But it wasn't until the night of Aug. 20, 1910, that hurricane-force winds blew in, expanding and combining those individual fires into one colossal maelstrom that the then 5-year-old U.S. Forest Service was completely unprepared to fight. Smoke from the fire was seen in New York state and impaired ships' ability to navigate as far as 500 miles into the Pacific.
By the time another storm brought rains several days later and extinguished the fire, 3 million acres had burned, five towns had been completely destroyed, and more than 100 people had been killed.
That event, still the largest fire in America's history, became the catalyst for the creation of the national parks system and the conservation movement under the leadership of President Teddy Roosevelt.
Both the fire and its effects on the political paradigm are the subject of Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winner Timothy Egan's new book, The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America.
Egan will be in Boise to discuss and sign his book at The Rose Room, on Wednesday, Oct. 6.