The wildfire season started early in 1910 in the western U S because the winter of 1909–1910 and the spring and summer of 1910 were extremely dry, and the summer sufficiently hot to have been described as "like no others." The drought resulted in forests that were teeming with dry fuel, which had previously grown up on abundant autumn and winter moisture. Hundreds of fires were ignited by hot cinders flung from locomotives, sparks, lightning, and backfiring crews. By mid-August, there were 1,000 to 3,000 fires burning in Idaho, Montana, and Washington. August 20, 1910 brought hurricane-force winds to the interior northwest, whipping the hundreds of small fires into one or two much larger blazing infernos. Such a conflagration was impossible to fight; there were too few men and supplies. The National Forest Service was only five years old at the time and unprepared for the possibilities of the dry summer or a fire of this magnitude, though all summer it had been urgently recruiting as many men as possible to fight the hundreds of fires already burning, many with little forestry or firefighting experience. Earlier in August President Taft had authorized the addition of military troops to the effort, and 4,000 troops, including seven companies from the U S Army’s 25th Regiment known as the Buffalo Soldiers, were brought in to help fight the fires burning in the northern Rockies. The arrival of the Black regiment of Buffalo Soldiers helped stem the tide for a while, but they were not enough and Smoke from the fire was said to have been seen as far east as Watertown, New York and as far south as Denver Colorado. It was reported that at night, five hundred miles out into the Pacific Ocean, ships could not navigate by the stars because the sky was cloudy with smoke. The fire burned after the strong winds caused those numerous smaller fires to combine into a firestorm of unprecedented size. It killed 87 people, mostly firefighters, destroyed numerous structures, including several entire towns, and burned more than three million acres of forest with an estimated billion dollars' worth of timber lost. It is believed to be the largest, although not the deadliest, forest fire in U.S. history. The extensive burned area was approximately the size of the state of Connecticut. In the aftermath of the fire, the Forest Service received considerable recognition for its firefighting efforts, including a doubling of its budget from Congress. The outcome was to highlight firefighters as public heroes while raising public awareness of national nature conservation. The fire is often considered a significant impetus in the development of early wildfire prevention and suppression strategies. In Idaho, one third of the town of Wallace was burned to the ground. Passenger trains evacuated thousands of Wallace residents to Spokane and Missoula. Another train with 1,000 people from Avery took refuge in a tunnel after racing across a burning trestle. The fire was finally extinguished when a cold front swept in, bringing steady rain and even some early season snowfall.
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