This year is a devastating one for wildfires. Over eight million acres have burned in 2018 in the United States, but did you know that the largest wildfire in our country’s history happened in Idaho in 1910?
In 1910, the largest fire in U.S. history burned over three million acres. That’s an area the size of the state of Connecticut and it happened in just 48 hours. A man named Ed Pulaski was the leader of a crew of wild land forest fighters and during that fire he became a national hero.
The pristine views and secluded beauty of this path have an almost somber stillness. It as if the trail knows the incredible weight of what happened here long ago and the reverence that it deserves. This is the Pulaski Trail, named for Ed Pulaski, the man who would risk his life to save his men from certain death.
Jim See, President of the Pulaski Project says, “He wasn’t your typical forest ranger at the time. Ed was in his 35 or 40 midlife. He knew the trail, he knew the forest, like the back of his hand because he had worked for the mining companies and then he worked building trails.”
This experience would prove lifesaving. When the fire of 1910 hit the area, many described it like the end of the world.
“It was a Fire storm,” says See, “Hurricane force winds. A lot of the damage was it blew the trees down. Trees were exploding. The smoke went all the way back east to New York. And in those days they were fighting fires with blankets and shovels and rakes and axes, that’s all they had.”
Ed Pulaski was in the town of Wallace when his crew of 45 men became trapped on the mountain by the raging fire.
“When he left town, he left his wife and his child here to face the fire alone because he felt responsibility for his fire fighters,” explains See, “he left town the day before. On his way up there it started getting so bad, he started bringing along some packers and mules with equipment to take up to the firefighters. And the packers quit half way up the hill and decided they weren’t going. And Ed continued on and he lost a lot of material doing that. Once he got up there, he had to organize and get those people together and then lead them down. He could have left on his own. You got to remember these fire fighters were people out of jail, they were migrants, immigrants, who spoke different languages, they had no idea where they were, they had no way how to get out of there, so he saved their lives.”
Ed knew of a mine shaft and led the men to it, taking cover as the fire literally burned over them.
“He held ‘em at gunpoint to keep them in that mine and basically saved their lives by doing that. There were about five or six different points along the way that defined him, I think, as a hero,” says See.
In 2002, the Pulaski Project was formed to save the tunnel and maintain the trail. Informational markers are placed along the way to tell the story and allow visitors to better understand the sacrifices Pulaski made for his crew and the continuing efforts of firefighters today.
See says, “I’m hoping that they take away an experience of the history where the forest service really learned their true calling, I guess, and appreciate what the modern fire fighter is doing for them.”
There is a wild land firefighting tool that has an axe on one end and a shovel on the other end and is still used by fire fighters today. It was invented by Ed and is called a Pulaski.