“..runs of more than 50,000 acres, fire brands thrown 10 miles from the flame front, turbulence of up to 80 mph, burns — where the fire entered a natural crucible — equivalent to a Hiroshima-type bomb exploding every two minutes. Three million acres of land burned in two days.
From the firefighters and townspeople who survived, we know the otherwise unbelievable reality of the firestorm’s passing. “Fancy a deep bowl which is completely lined with seething flames, yourself a spectator in the center, and you can in some degree conceive the scene,” wrote one man, who helped in the defense of tiny Mullan, Idaho….”
“Those who met the fire in the backcountry survived by diving into creeks and mine tunnels, staying put despite falling embers and suffocating gases. Virtually all who ran died.
By the time the firestorm spent itself in the Kootenai National Forest, at least 78 firefighters and seven civilians were dead: a mother and baby who drowned trying to escape the flames in their homestead’s well, a man who shot himself for fear of burning to death, another who jumped from a train as it neared a burning trestle. At Big Creek, in the Coeur d’Alene forest, seven men died when they took refuge in a prospect hole. Three others there were killed by an immense falling pine.
Ninety years later, all of the survivors are believed gone — and with most of them, their stories. Many of the firefighters simply were not literate. Some were not even known to their crew bosses, having been hired so quickly and haphazardly.
The stories that were recorded, though, are like no others in the history of wildland firefighting. A few of those follow, pulled from Forest Service files, family letters, handwritten reminiscences and newspaper clippings….”