Wildfires are nothing new in the Northwest, and the “Big Burn of 1910” in Idaho and Montana is still remembered as one of the worst disasters in the region’s history.
What’s not remembered so much is that one group sent to battle the blaze was a company from the 25th Infantry, a regiment of Black soldiers, most of whom were from the American South, but who were stationed at Fort George Wright in Spokane.
The Big Burn of 1910 has been the subject of books and documentaries – notably by Northwest author Timothy Egan and from PBS – for the centennial 10 years ago. The fire in late August of that year was actually a series of blazes mostly in Idaho and Montana, though partly in British Columbia and Washington, too. A total of an estimated three million acres burned, and at least 87 people died after what had been an exceedingly dry spring and summer. The science of forestry and the Forest Service as a federal agency were relatively new in those years.