The "Big Blow-Up" of 1910
Wednesday April 13, 2005
By Jeff LaLande
Welcome to As It Was: Tales from the State of Jefferson
2005 marks the Centennial of the U.S. Forest Service. In 100 years of fighting forest fires, there's never been a year quite like 1910.
By mid-August of that year, hundreds of forest fires in the Pacific Northwest choked the valleys and obscured the mountains from view. Lightning, accidents, and arson all played a part in this region-wide conflagration.
Companies of regular U.S. Army troops from Vancouver Barracks and the San Francisco Presidio arrived by special trains to join alongside Forest Service rangers fighting the "Ashland Creek" fire near Ashland, the "South Fork" Fire near Prospect, and the "Cat Hill" Fire east of Butte Falls.
Although damage and death was far less in southern Oregon than it was in northern Idaho, the fledgling U. S. Forest Service office in Medford needed all the help it could get. Local ranchers and farmhands, businessmen, hoboes passing through, Greek railroad workers--even the drink-sodden denizens of Medford saloons signed on to fight the fires. Their weapons: ordinary garden rakes, hoes, and shovels. A dirty, tiring, and dangerous job lay ahead.
Before the end September, not only had millions of acres of pine-and-fir forest across the Northwest gone up in smoke, but more than eighty people perished in the flames, and entire towns burned to the ground.
Today's episode of As It Was was written by Jeff LaLande for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, the program engineer is Raymond Scully. I'm Shirley Patton. As It was is a co-production of JPR and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. To Share stories or learn more about the series visit asitwas - dot- org
Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest