Pulaski Tunnel Hike

Trailhead

Yesterday I told you all a little bit about the Big Burn of 1910 (I just found this Forest Service website with tons more info). One of the heros of the Big Burn was Ed Pulaski. Pulaski was a ranger for the young US Forest Service when the fires broke out in August of 1910. He was in charge of a crew of about 150 firefighters on the divide between the Coeur D’Alene River and the St. Joe River.

When the fire cut off Pulaski and a group of about 40 men, Pulaski decided the only feasible option for escape was to flee for Wallace. It became evident that Pulaski and his crew were going to be cut off before they were going to make it to Wallace. Using his knowledge of the area he lead his crew to a mine shaft where they huddled under blankets wet in the creek and waited out the firestorm. Four of the men died during the night but Pulaski’s thinking (and his threats to shoot any man who tried to leave) saved the lives of 42 of his crew members.

Pulaski Tunnel Reconstruction

On Wednesday, F, Ezra, and I decided to hike the trail to the Pulaski Tunnel. In 2010, the tunnel entrance was restored to appear as it did following the fires. The Tunnel overlook (the trail doesn’t go to the mine entrance) is two miles from the trailhead with about 800′ feet of elevation gain. We hiked up stopping at all the interpretive signs and on the way back down mixed some huckleberry eating and some running.

I’m glad we finally hiked the trail since we’ve been talking about doing it since we moved here. While it was a nice short hike in the trees on a warm day, I’ve read most of the history on the interpretive signs and without getting up close to the adit, it was somewhat disappointing. (The huckleberries were NOT disappointing.)

8 thoughts on “Pulaski Tunnel Hike”

    1. Being as it was 1910, the stories are all a little bit vague on how they died. My assumption is from smoke inhalation (so asphyxiation officially) but I’m also going to guess there were some exhaustion factors playing into this as well. (I’m also a little bit unsure about my use of the word “hero,” as well as everyone elses. There were other groups of men who took shelter in mine tunnels and died because smoke built up rather than the tunnel being a shelter. So really it was just a gamble that paid off for most of Pulaski’s men.)

      1. “The intense heat caused by the forest fire outside of the tunnel caused the cold air of the tunnel to rush out and the smoke and hot air to rush in. The timbers supporting the tunnel caught fire and Pulaski stood as near to the mouth of the tunnel as he could, and from a little stream that flowed from the bottom of the tunnel dipped water with his hat to dash upon the burning timbers, until he was badly burned and fell unconscious. Prior to becoming unconscious himself, he had commanded all his men to lie on their faces for protection. All of the men were evidently unconscious for a portion of the time. One of the men, however, having sustained less injury than the others, recovered to the extent that he was able to crawl out of the tunnel, and the fires by this time had subsided sufficiently for him to drag himself into Wallace and notify the Forest Office. This was about 3:00 in the morning. A crew was immediately sent to the tunnel and all of the men and horses were removed. Although nearly all of the 42 men were still in a helpless condition after being taken to the hospital in Wallace, they rapidly recovered their strength, with the exception of five who had smothered before they were reached. The two horses, although still living, were in such bad condition that they were immediately shot. The man who failed to get into the tunnel was burned beyond recognition. Had not Pulaski known the location of this tunnel, every one of the 42 men in his crew would have perished.”

        Oogghhhhh. Nightmares. 🙁

        1. I cannot IMAGINE trying to run and hide from a fire here. The whole landscape is steep tight valleys. Ugh. Terrifying nightmares is right.

  1. I was always terrified of forest fires (grew up just over the border of MT from where you are, in the boonies, surrounded by forest). This is inspiring and also awesome that the gamble paid off.

    I am totally appalled all of the time at people here who throw cigarettes out of their vehicle onto the highway. It offends me somewhat personally. 😉

  2. One guy got killed by a tree that fell on him as they ran down to the tunnel. If that gives you any idea of the wind forces.

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