Stories of heroism and sacrifice emerged from the 1910 fire.
Related story: First-person narratives recall terror of 1910 fire
Related story: Stories of survival: Families and the 1910 fire
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“We were all paralyzed and couldn’t use our limbs so we floundered along on the ground. Someone helped me into the water of the creek. I remember there was a big snag just above me that was burning and threatening to fall on me. I didn’t care at the time whether it fell or not. I just sat and looked at it.”
Ione S. “Pinkie” Adair was a homesteader when the great fire of 1910 roared through the mountains along the Idaho Montana border. She was conscripted to feed the troops and firefighters after she hiked 28 miles in her hobnail boots into Avery through the forest fires. Audio on this page is from oral histories she recorded on Feb. 24, 1977. Her sister Bernadine Cornelison also participated.
“Imagine, if you can, the wind suddenly changing, the rock cut filled with sparks more dense than any skyrocket that could be shot off in your face, with a temperature that in an instant cooked every exposed part of one’s body, with only a moment to realize your condition and then fall down unconscious, and then, as if this were not enough misfortune, awake to find your clothes half burned off, men crazy with pain, some wanting to commit suicide, some wishing to leave through fire and smoke and darkness for Mullan, others throwing their arms around you begging for God’s sake that you better their condition.”
U.S. Forest Service Ranger Joe Halm, left, and Missoula photographer R.H. McKay pose for a picture in 1910 or 1911 at the War Eagle tunnel, now commonly called the Pulaski tunnel. Halm, a former star athlete at Washington State College, and his crew of 70 were feared dead after the big blowup. The Spokane Daily Chronicle ran a front page story headlined: “Athlete A Fire Victim – Joe Halm, Formerly Football and Baseball Man, With His Party, Lost in the Fire Saturday Night at Big Fork.” In fact they had survived, by laying down in a creek and emerged after a week of hiking down the St. Joe River. The next Chronicle headline: “Joe Halm Is Safe.”
“Evening found our little party many miles from camp. We saw the remains of an elk and several deer; also a grouse hopping about with feet and feathers burned off – a pitiful sight. Men who quenched their thirst from small streams immediately became deathly sick. The clear, pure water running through miles of ashes had become a strong, alkaline solution, polluted by dead fish, killed by the lye. Thereafter, we drank only spring water.”
The most pitiful sight ever witnessed in Mullan occurred Sunday morning when the fifteen survivors of the Boulder Creek (Stevens Peak) fire limped into town. All were staggering and all carried their arms in the air. They were badly burned and the only relief that could be obtained was by holding their arms up. Some of the men were blind from the flames that had burned them, and they held on to the men in front of them. They walked in single file and made a most distressing spectacle. They were so overcome they could not at first give a coherent account of what had happened.