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.)

Fires of 1910

We hiked the Pulaski Tunnel Trail yesterday. I’ll have a post up about that soon (tomorrow?) but in the meantime, here’s a primer on what happened in Idaho and Montana on August 20 and 21, 1910.

In the summer of 1910, the entire Pacific Northwest was exceedingly dry—the first forest fires had started burning in Montana by late April. Fires burned throughout the summer but remained mostly small and isolated. Many of these fires were caused by lightning strikes but more were also related to the train traffic crossing the very dry mountains. Fire crews hired by the new US Forest Service (it had only been founded five years earlier) battled the small fires alongside 4,000 Army troops although many fires were left to smolder in remote drainages. (The troops sent to the Coeur D’Alene Mountain region included the all black 25th Infantry, Company G, the “Buffalo Soldiers.”)

Source: The Spokesman Review

On August 20, 1910, high winds hit the region and whipped many of the small smoldering fires into a giant fire that encompassed huge parts of Idaho, Montana, and Washington. Eventually, more than 3 million acres burned in the Bitterroots and surrounding areas. In addition to the 7.5 billion board feet of timber that burned, half of Wallace burned to the ground and the Montana towns of Taft, De Borgia, Haugan, and Henderson were completely lost.  The fires killed 87 people including 78 firefighters.

Source: Wikipedia Commons

There were some happy endings:Mullan & Avery survived thanks to backfires lit by volunteers. Ed Pulaski (the inventor of the pulaski firefighting tool) saved 40 of the 45 men in his crew by hiding in an abandoned mine tunnel (more on him tomorrow). The Forest Service’s importance to the West was cemented (although it would increase their adherence to a “total suppression” philosophy for decades to come).

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Sometimes, when I’m reminded of the fires, I think of being down in these narrow valleys as winds blow flames around, I think of the descriptions of the sky glowing red, I think of the firefighters out attempting to halt the progress of the blaze without the support of helicopters and roads, and I’m flabbergasted they even were able to try.

 

Highly Recommended Reading: The Big Burn by Tim Egan

Related blog post: 1910 Fire Commemoration

Sources:

The Forest History Society: “US Forest Service History, The 1910 Fires

Spokane Spokesman-Review: “Forest fire, the largest in US history, left stories of awe, tragedy.”

 

1910 Fire Commemoration and Huckleberry Festival

Wallace, Idaho

Sprocket and I spent last weekend in Wallace, Idaho for a weekend of fun. After getting off of work on Friday I rushed home to pick up Sprocket. We headed west and arrived in Wallace at 6PM (Pacific Time). After talking Sprocket for a little walk, I went to the Smokehouse (6th and Bank Street) for a beer. I tried Wallace Brewing‘s IPA again. After having not been impressed last time, it was much better this go around!

I headed over to the Elks to listen to Rocky Barker (author of Scorched Earth) talk about the date of August 20th in fire history. The talk wasn’t that great and could have used some more organization. The talk was followed by George Sibley’s documentary “Ordeal By Fire.” It was decidedly low budget but really recapped the story of the fire well. It used lots of great historic photographs. 

Really tired after the lectures, I headed over to the Brooks Hotel and was delighted to find that their restaurant was open until 10 (we’re talking about Wallace here). It was such a classic cafe–only had one calendar but I think William Least Heat Moon would have been proud. After my chicken and huckleberry crisp, Sprocket and I headed up Placer Creek and went to bed. 

I woke up bright and early to a licking dog, brushed my teeth and dressed for the Huckleberry 5K. I drove back down into town and registered for the run. Sprocket and I walked all over town to warm up. I decided not to run with him because he starts to slow down around the mile and a quarter mark and I didn’t really want to drag him along. He went into the Jeep and pouted. I didn’t exactly burn up the course but I did run the 3.2 miles in something like 28:15. I took 3rd in my age group (although there probably weren’t that many people in the group) and got a medal.

I was STARVING after the run and was so so happy to cash in my ticket for huckleberry pancakes. They were so yummy. It was a great way to finish off my run. I headed to the car and gave myself a baby wipe bath and changed. Sprocket and I walked around some more before returning to the car to get my chair. I was super impressed with how well behaved Mr. Sprocket was during the parade. It wasn’t quite the 100 pieces of apparatus they were hoping for but the wild land firefighters, Coeur D’Alene Fire Department Pipe & Drum corps, and the USFS Northern Region pack train were great additions. 

Sprocket and I followed the parade over to the visitors center for the dedication. There was a little beagle who really wanted to play with Sprocket (his owner kept forgetting her dog as she was talking to people) which kind of made things difficult, but he put up with the heat and the wait pretty well. The dedication hit all the right notes. Everyone kept their remarks pretty short. The governor’s speech was so politician but I found it pretty inspiring–let’s get to work on biomass in Shoshone County!!! My particularly favorite moment was when Tim Egan told the governor that he needed to stay for his talk. The water drop demonstration was pretty sweet too.

I felt really bad for Sprocket and ran him up 9 Mile Creek Road and let him play in the creek. He was a very happy boy. We explored the area a bit but decided to wait for Forrest–there’s lot to see. We went back to town where Sprocket was kind enough to hang out in the car while I checked out the shops in town (it’s not very often they’re all open at the same time). I was delighted to find that there’s a store that sells wine (with free tastings!), enjoyed poking around the antique stores, looked into the mining museum, and walked all over town. 

Starving, I treated myself to a steak at the Jameson Saloon. They have immaculately restored the building to 1890s status, it’s beautiful! My steak was pretty good too. Over at the Elks I was so excited for Tim Egan’s talk. He was such a good speaker. He references all sorts of books and events that have captured his imagination (I have a whole list of things to read more about now) and he’s funny! I had brought my copy of The Big Burn but I left it in the car…and decided to go get it. I waited did wait in line to have him sign it before heading up 9 Mile Creek Road to camp for the night. 

Sunday morning, Sprocket and I played our way home over Mullan Pass and checking out Taft Summit. It was a busy, busy weekend in Wallace!

Originally posted on the blog: Evergreen Rambles.