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The 1910 Fire

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Wallace, Idaho (Photo published under Creative Commons license) Wallace, Idaho (Photo published under Creative Commons license)

Historical movie to show in Clark Fork and Sagle

Two showings of "Ordeal By Fire," a new documentary film about the Great Fires of 1910 that burned large portions of the panhandle of Idaho and western Montana, will be hosted by the Bonner County Historical Society in Clark Fork and Sagle. Both showings will begin at 7:00 PM with an introduction by Sandpoint District Ranger, Richard Kramer, and the filmmaker, George Sibley. The events will be held on Monday, August 16, at the Clark Fork Senior Center and on Tuesday, August 17, at the Sagle Senior Center. A $5.00 donation to the Historical Society is requested at the door.

The fires which raged across the panhandle of Idaho and the mountains of western Montana "blew up" on August 20, 1910 into the biggest forest fire in US history. America had seen big fires before, but this was the first time that a serious effort to fight such fires was attempted. In 1910 the federal government, mostly in the form of the US Forest Service, was committed to conservation, and it sent a virtual fire army of 10,000 men into the woods. This massive campaign started out as hundreds of smaller efforts to fight fires kindled by lightning and steam locomotives and people across the Northern Rockies in July.

There were bad fires everywhere that unusually dry year, but the mountain west was hit especially hard. Fires raged from St. Maries, Idaho across the Bitterroot Mountains and over to Glacier Park and the Blackfeet Indian reservation. The worst of them, though, clustered along the Idaho-Montana border. On August 20 hurricane-force winds whipped those fires into one massive Big Burn that scorched across more than 3 million acres and sent fire crews running for their lives. People huddled in mines and root cellars, and approximately 90 people lost their lives, most of them firefighters.

After September rains finally doused the flames, the haunting memory of the failed fire fight of 1910 made the Forest Service determined to beat the fire demon. For better and for worse, these fires shaped how Americans and their government would view wildland fires and fire protection, and set in motion a chain of events which would greatly affect both western landscapes and attitudes toward land management 100 years later.

Filmmaker, George Sibley, has been making educational films and documentaries for more than 40 years. Based in Florida, he is fond of telling lesser-known stories of American history to wider audiences. Last year his film "Shadows of David Thompson" was widely shown in cities across Canada and the US as part of the 200th anniversary of Thompson's most important explorations. Sibley will answer questions after the film and will have copies of "Ordeal By Fire" available for purchase.

For more information contact the museum at 263-2344 or visit their website. Bonner County Historical Society & Museum 611 S. Ella Ave Sandpoint, ID 83864 (208) 263 2344


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Bonner County Historical Located in Lakeview Park, the museum feature four exhibit rooms dealing with the history and development of Bonner County. Visitors take a trip back to the era of Native Americans, fur traders, steamboats, and railroads. The historical research facility is available to visitors. Call 263-2344 for information.

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