Early Days in the Forest Service
Volume 4
USFS Logo

SELWAY FOREST FIRES OF 1934
By C. B. Sutliff

Memories of the 1910 holocaust which burned over several hundred thousand acres of forest lands in northeastern Washington, northern Idaho, and western Montana identifies the really old timers among Forest Service Region One retirees, many of whom have departed this world, leaving only a few to recall those days. Lest we forget, 1934 spawned another holocaust second only to that of 1910. Following is a resume of the 1934 fires for the benefit of old timers of the class of 1920 to 1960 and others who may be interested.

INTRODUCTION: The author was in the midst of control action from August 7 to September 20 (then came the rains). Immediately thereafter he was assigned to make an intensive study and write a detailed report of the Selway fires for review and analysis. Three months were required for the field studies and report preparation. Only seven copies of the final report were made. The author has the only copy believed available now. This abbreviated narrative of the 1934 Selway forest fires contains only the very highlights of the battle for existence. The report from which this is extracted contains 44 pages of narrative, 9 charts and tables, and 5 maps. The original report will be shown to or excerpted for anyone having a real interest in or need for the historical information and data contained therein. Title of the report is "A History of The Pete King, McLendon Butte and Eighteen Other Selway Forest Fires-August and September 1934."

This resume is based upon the report. Complete statements and data copied verbatim from the report are shown in quotation marks.

LOCALE: Selway National Forest, north central Idaho embracing the Selway and Lochsa River drainages, with official headquarters at Kooskia, Idaho. There were five Ranger Districts—Pete King, Lochsa, O'Hara (now Fenn), Moose Creek, and Bear Creek

"HISTORY OF SELWAY FIRES - 1934"

"- FOREWORD -"

"This is a presentation of facts considered to be of value to fire control managers who are interested in taking advantage of the 1934 experiences on the Selway Forest.

"The information given is based on an examination of diaries, dispatcher and fire camp logs, and other similar records together with memory statements obtained from men who worked on the fires involved.

"This history is restricted to the period August 7 to September 20, the entire time during which the fires were active."

AUGUST 1 - THE STAGE IS SET: Last measurable rainfall was June 27 and no rain of consequence fell between then and September 20; relative humidity was well below normal August 1 to September 20; winds averaged 15 percent above normal for same period; and fuel moisture averaged 20 percent below normal. Selway forest fire danger ratings during June through September were the highest since 1919. And then came August 7 and 11 with one man-caused and 19 lightning-caused fires with no rainfall!

"FIRES INVOLVED: The records show that one man-caused fire of August 7 and 19 lightning-caused fires of August 11 were responsible for the 1934 conflagration.

"Of the 20 fires concerned, two, the Pete King and McLendon Butte, were directly responsible for over 95 percent of all costs and damages sustained and area burned. They were both lightning fires of August 11. The remainders of the 20 fires were all handled without excessive costs, damages or area burned except two. The Pete King fire surrounded these before they were controlled.

"FUEL TYPES: The types of fuels which existed throughout the area were conspicuously above average both in rates of spread and resistance to control. This situation was the direct result of single burns of the years 1910, 1917, and 1919 and which constituted 75 percent of the area. The balance of the area was green timber—20 percent and multiple burn—5 percent.

"The three major factors which made this area one of the worst hazards of the Region were: (1) large, continuous areas of cedar and white fir snags and windfall intermixed with much fine fuel; (2) exceptionally long, steep slopes exposed to the ever prevalent, deceptive winds and drafts of the Lochsa and Selway River canyons; (3) the astonishing lack of reproduction or other green vegetation of sufficient growth to slow fire spread on ordinary burning days with a consequent over abundance of grass and other fine fuels which greatly increased it."

Both the Pete King and McLendon Butte fires started and continued throughout the first several days in fuels classified high rate of spread and high resistance to control.

LOCAL FIRE CONTROL FORCE AVAILABLE AUGUST 10: The Selway Forest "Average" fire season organization, less 20 percent reduction due to cut in regular presuppression financing, was in place. Also, 65 percent of the overload positions called for by current fire dangers were manned. This amounted to about 75 percent of the planned presuppression organization being available on August 10. Most of the available road, trail, and other Forest project manpower was on the man-caused Meadow Creek fire which had just been controlled (on August 10) at 1,500 acres. This fire had about exhausted readily available local project work forces and cooperators from the Selway and adjoining Forests. Total overhead and fire fighters on the fire was about 1,100 men.

GLEANINGS FROM THE HISTORY REPORT: Following are a few noteworthy excerpts of interest from the Official History Report:

"WEATHER FORECAST - AUGUST 10: Generally fair weather, little change in temperature and humidity, gentle, changeable winds.

"LIGHTNING STORMS - AUGUST 11: PETE KING STORM AT 3:30 a.m. A dry lightning storm came in from the west. Commencing with strikes at Woodrat L.O. it progressed eastward to Coolwater Creek, thence northeast over Van Camp L.O. to Fish Butte where, at 4:30 a.m., the lightning ceased. The heaviest recorded rainfall along the storm's path was "Trace." A total of 11 fires were credited to this storm.

SELWAY FALLS STORM - AT 3:00 a.m. Avery light storm passed over about 5 miles up river from Selway Falls R.S. leaving one fire in its wake with only a "trace of rainfall."

"MOOSE CREEK STORM: This storm covered the territory adjacent to Moose Creek R.S. to the south and east starting seven fires with only a "trace of rainfall." Lightning began at 3:00 a.m. and ceased about 4:00 a.m.

"There were 19 fires discovered and reported as having been started by the storms of August 11.

"AUGUST 11 - THE BATTLE IS JOINED: Between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m., three separate small, dry lightning storm clouds came in from the west and proceeded up the Selway-Lochsa River drainages. At 3:09, 3:58, and 4:03 a.m., the first three fires ignited were seen, located, and reported by fire lookouts in the area. Then followed one lookout report after another until a total of 19 fires, spawned by the dry storms, were located and reported. By 8:00 a.m., the situation appeared serious. The author, in charge of mop-up work on Meadow Creek fire, was called and directed to pull all manpower possible off the fire and report to Pete King Ranger Station fully equipped with tools, lunches, and beds for immediate reassignment."

Pete King Ranger Station, centrally located 1 mile up the Lochsa above its junction with the Selway River, was set up and used as base headquarters for action in the lower Selway and Lochsa Rivers area.

Moose Creek Ranger Station, about 20 miles by road and 25 miles by trail up the Selway River from Pete King, was supervision and supply base for seven of the 20 fires involved. A total force of 125 NIRA, CCC, and Forest crewmen and overhead without serious trouble handled all but one of the seven fires.

The Martin Creek fire was something else. It began spreading at time of discovery about 12 hours after the storm. By evening, it covered an area 2 miles long by 1 mile wide. A force of 335 men and overhead was put on the fire as rapidly as possible. All manpower, supplies, and equipment had to be planed to Moose Creek or hauled to nearest road point on Nezperce Forest. From these points, the men had to hike 10 to 15 miles and equipment and supplies backpacked by manpower or packed in on pack animals.

This force battled the fire until August 31 when the Pete King fire took over and, by September 6, surrounded two-thirds of the Martin Creek fire. The latter was considered corralled on August 31 at 9,000 acres of area.

Midmorning of August 11 found all local presuppression and project work forces exhausted. Also, by this time, it was obvious that at least two of the fires—Pete King and McLendon Butte were on their way to becoming major conflagrations.

INITIAL CONTROL ACTION: Discovery action was very good on all fires except the Martin Creek. Initial control action was also very good on all fires discovered. And, control results were also very successful on all but the three "Bad Boys" - Pete King, McLendon Butte, and Martin Creek. Following are quotes from the "History:"

"McLendon Butte Fire: McHone, L.O.-F. on Fish Butte, saw the lightning strike that set the fire at 4:18 a.m. Fire did not show up until 4:22. McHone reported it in to Bohn, headquarters guard at Lochsa, at 4:25. Bohn reported the fire to McGregor at Pete King at 4:30. McGregor called Sink at CCC spike camp at 4:35 and instructed him to take the six CCC men in camp and go to the fire. Sink and crew left camp at 4:50, traveled 4-1/2 miles by truck, 4 mile by foot, and arrived on the fire at 5:10 a.m. The total elapsed time from discovery to arrival was 48 minutes.

"Sink and his crew were equipped with packs from a standard 1- to 15-man backpack outfit.

"The area of the fire on arrival was estimated by Sink to be about 11 acre. The fuel consisted of several 24-inch cedar snags; numerous windfall of same size intermixed with considerable broken limbs and fine fuel, and a moderately dense growth of green ceonothus brush. The location of the fire was on top of a fairly high, exposed north ridge and a moderate, gusty wind was blowing at time of arrival upon fire.

"Sink states that work was begun immediately upon arrival and that main fire was practically controlled at 8:30 a.m., when a spot fire was noticed some 150 feet away. Leaving two men on main fire, he went to work with the balance of the crew on the spot. By 9:00, the wind had increased to brisk, the crew had the main fire and four spots controlled and were working upon a fifth when it, too, began to respot resulting in too much of a spread for the manpower available. Sink and his crew continued the losing battle until 9:30 a.m. before giving it up as a hopeless proposition.

"At 9:30, Sink moved the six CCC men onto the back side of the fire to work and he left for the spike camp to report conditions. While there, Keogh and 20 men arrived (at 10:15) from Pete King where McGregor had dispatched them by truck at 8:00 a.m. They were taken to the fire and put to work at 10:45."

"By 11:00 a.m., Sink and Keogh estimated the area of the fire to have been 10 acres. It was then burning too hot for men to work ahead of and had commenced to spot considerable distances ahead.

"Sink and Keogh continued to work upon back side of the fire the rest of the day. That night all their line was lost.

"The fire continued to burn hard and spot ahead from 11:00 a.m. until evening, some of the spots as far as 3 miles. By then, the main fire had reached an area of 1,500 acres, had set three spots of 60 acres or under on Zion Ridge within a mile of Lochsa Station, and another of 200 acres across Lochsa River in Big Stew Creek.

"PETE KING FIRE: The Pete King fire was discovered by L. Brown, Big Hill L.O.-F. at 5:50 a.m. The base of smoke could not be seen by Brown nor by two other lookouts who picked it up within 20 minutes after Brown. The three lookouts estimated the time of origin to be 4:00 a.m. at which time lightning strikes had been reported in that vicinity. Brown reported the fire to McGregor at Pete King at 5:55.

"John Rice, at Pete King instructed Brook Monroe, a crewman, and three pickup men to go to the fire from Pete King with regular smokechaser packs at 7:20 a.m.

"Monroe and the three men left Pete King at 7:35 a.m. Traveling 1 mile by car and 6 miles on foot over Pete King Creek trail, they arrived on the fire at 10:30 a.m.

"At time of arrival, Monroe states the fire was burning in about a dozen 16-inch cedar, white fir, Douglas-fir snags and numerous windfall of same size and species scattered through a heavy growth of green ceonothus brush. His estimate of area on arrival was 2 acres. The fire Was burning near the confluence of Jungle and Pete King Creeks.

"No work was attempted by Monroe and his three men as he states fire was beginning to spot ahead and was burning too hot to work near.

"The first reinforcements sent were eight men dispatched from the Jungle fire by Fred Harris about 10:00 a.m. after they were unable to locate the second Jungle fire reported. These men reached the fire about the time it commenced spreading heavily and as a consequence did no work."

"MARTIN CREEK FIRE: The Martin Creek fire, discovered in mid afternoon after hanging over about 12 hours after the storm, began spreading at time of discovery.

"The Martin Creek L.O.-F, who was at Tony Point, and the Tony Point L.O.F, were dispatched from Tony Point at once by Ranger Case. Before they arrived at the fire, it had begun blowing up. By night it covered an area 2 miles long by 1 mile wide."

SECOND LINE DEFENSE. By mid-afternoon of August 11, "All Out Second Line Defense Plans" had been set in motion on the Selway and adjoining Forests. An all out forest fire-suppression battle was the order of the day.

Before midnight the entire Region One second line defense plan had been activated. First call in Service forces had been called upon. Also, adjoining Regions had been alerted regarding possible overhead and assistance needs. By midnight a suppression force of 1,200 men and overhead, comprised of Forest Service Project, CCC, and NIRA crews and local cooperators was on the battle front or enroute thereto.

Total area of Pete King and McLendon Butte fires, after first day's spread, was 9,060 acres.

Additional overhead, manpower, transportation, equipment, and supplies arrived daily from August 12 on until a total of 5,475 men and commensurate overhead and service of supply were on the battle line. Forest officer overhead was drawn from Regional Office, NRM Exp. St., inter-Forest and inter-Regional sources. Manpower was obtained from the general Region One area including NIRA, CCC, seasonal project crewmen, cooperators, and contract fire fighters.

MANPOWER USED: The following table shows the maximum number of men employed, type of labor, and approximate total man-days worked by each class:

ClassClass of Men Man-Days
No.% No.%
Forest Officers50.9 1,3001.2
NIRA-Overhead*701.3
F.F.35.6 50,00049.4
NIRA-Crewmen*1,12020.5
F.F.1,60029.2
E.C.W. - Overhead1252.3 50,000
C.C.C. - Crewmen2,47545.2
49.4

      Totals5,475100.00 101,300100.00
*NIRA - National Industrial Recovery Act, was the source of funds with which the Forest Service recruited local residents in need of employment.

NIRA overhead and crewmen provided the nucleus of the fire control organization and the key to all suppression efforts.

The ECW - Emergency Conservation Work Employees (CCC-Civilian Conservation Corps) were of little help in the Selway situation at the outset. The program was too new (initiated in 1932), and the leadership (camp superintendents) were appointed from political party registration lists. Consequently most of the CCC forces were inadequately trained and quite inexperienced. However, it must be said that in subsequent years the CCC became the backbone of second line defense in the USFS Fire Control organization, and it remained so until the program was discontinued in 1942.

FOREST OFFICERS: Since this is a write-up about "Old Times" - (and Old Timers), a list of the "Old Timers" involved, together with a key to their present status is appropriate. Headquarters (1934) is shown for each, together with latest information on their present status including those who have gone to their last reward. R - denotes retired; U = denotes unknown; and D - denotes deceased.

NameStatusHeadquarters Name
Anderson, B.A.RB.R.C.
Anderson, I.V.RN.R.M.
Anderson, W.R.UR-6
Apgar, W.B.RRO
Blake, C.B.DFlathead
Brandborg, G.M.RNezperce
Case, Geo.DSelway
Crocker, C.S.RSelway
Coleman, W.W.UCabinet
Coster, R.A.RRO
Cox, DellRSelway
Cramer, A.J.RKaniksu
Deihl, J.N.RClearwater
Duncan, Geo.DRO
Eastman, V.DNezperce
Evans, W.C. (cap)RRO
FalknerRB.R.C.
Ferguson, R.S.RSelway
Foltz, FrankUSt. Joe
Ford, K.W.DRO
Fields, R.E.DSt. Joe
Flint, HowardDRO
Galt, R.V.UR-3
Gerrard, P.H.UClearwater
Godwin, JackDSelway
Gurley, H.H.RRO
HendricksUB.R.C.
Hibberd, N.E.UR-2
Hough, JohnUR-6
Howard, LawrenceUSelway
Jefferson, F.J.DRO
Jefferson, L.F.DClearwater
Jemison, Geo.RN.R.M.
Jost, JackDClearwater
Kerr, L.C.URO
Koch, ElersDRO
Koogler, W.H.UR-3
Lewis, LeroyRSelway
Linthacum, V.T.RRO
Lommasson, TomDRO
Lund, H.W.UR-6
Lyman, C.K.RRO
McGregor, C.A.DSelway
McKenzie, StanleyRSelway
McLannahanUR-6
Myrick, E.H.DSelway
Owens, Chas.UB.R.C.
Parsell, JackRSelway
Phillips, RoyDNezperce
Poppe, SidDSelway
Reimler, FredRSelway
Rice, JohnDSelway
RustURO
Schwable, AbnerUNezperce
Shaner, FrankUSelway
Stockdale, L.C.DRO
Strand, PaulUSelway
Sutliff, C.B.RRO
White, W.W.DRO
WilkersonUR-6
Williams, L.A.USt. Joe

Following the losing madhouse scramble of the 11th, the tempo of fire control action began to smooth out. But the weather influences and fire burning capers became anything else but cooperative or predictable. Control efforts went along fairly well through the 12th and 13th with only a 6,500-acre increase in burn. Again, the 14th, 15th, and 16th produced only a 7,990 acre increase. Then the lull ended. About noon on August 17, all "Hell busted loose!" After the fires cooled off, around 3:00 a.m. the 18th, an additional 53,330 acres were blackened. At this stage of the battle there was about 77,000 acres of fire, and held control line stood at about 15 percent of total fire perimeter. A very handicapped situation at best.

Howard R. Flint, early day R-1 Forest Supervisor and Regional Fire Control Chief, scouted the Pete King and McLendon Butte fires by airplane the afternoon of August 17. Flint and his pilot flew their plane, as high as they could go, around the tremendously spectacular single smoke column above the two fires. They estimated the top of the column to be 40,000 feet high. The mushroom top of the column was visible from Lewiston and Grangeville, Idaho and Walla Walla and Spokane, Washington. The smoke from the fires darkened Missoula and Hamilton, Montana, and the Bitterroot Valley. All of the many experienced old timers on the fires said they had never seen or experienced the likes of the rate of spread, heat, and smoke column before. Spot fires were set from 1 to 3 miles ahead of the main fire. Most of these were overrun by the main fires before nightfall. Needless to say, there was very little control line constucted and far less held on this day of holocaust.

Now that we have covered the "Blowup Day" of all days, summary of all of the blowups and burns is in order.

BLOWUP DAYS AND ACREAGE BURNED. These figures include only the Pete King and McLendon Butte fires. At end of first burning period, August 11, burned area was 9,060 acres.

August 12 through 16 - 14,490 acres burned.

August 17, worst single blowup day - 53,330 acres.

August 18, moderate blowup - 15,560 acres.

August 19 through 21 - 3,740 acres.

August 22, moderate blowup - 19,940 acres.

August 23 through 29 - gradual spread - 24,620 acres.

August 30 through September 1, heavy blowup on all fronts - 67,040 acres.

September 2 through 21, low to moderate spread due to cool weather and light rainfall - 44,470 acres.

Total area burned - 252,250 acres. This is an average of 5,995 acres per day August 11 through September 21. Rate of spread on August 11 was 4,444 acres per hour; for 3-day period August 31 to September 2, rate of spread was 14,823 acres per day or 2,238 acres per 6-hour burning period. Rate of burn per hour on worst blowup day (August 17) was 6,666 acres from 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

The following report excerpts afford some idea of the intensity of the fires on August 17, the worst burning day of the entire battle period:

"About noon, a very strong, shifting north and west wind set in causing havoc in general with all fires. Tests taken during the afternoon at Coolwater, Mud Creek, Moose Creek, and Salmon Mountain showed the velocity to be as high as 20 and 25 miles per hour at times.

"The Pete King fire commenced blowing up at 1:00 p.m. in upper Lowell and lower Pete King Creeks. At 3:00 p.m. it was seen to blow out of Lowell Creek and spot across the Lochsa River on Coolwater Ridge in front of Pete King Station. Girard and Brandborg started 100 men from Pete King after the spots, but before they could get organized and out of the Station yard, the main fire had surrounded them and it was necessary to use all hands available to save Pete King Station."

"For the next 4 hours, Brandborg, Rice, Girard, and 100 men battled with Pacific pumps and backfire to keep Pete King from burning.

"The only lines held throughout that eventful day on the Pete King fire were those on the northeast, north and west sides which had been constructed for some time and were well burned out.

"And in the meantime, at 1:00 p.m., the McLendon Butte fire blew up in Alder Creek and crossed Fish Creek-Bimerick divide routing Camp X crew along roadway by spotting behind them in Bimerick Creek from one-fourth of a mile inside the back fire line. About 10 men were trapped between the new break and the main fire. They retreated into the old burn until evening, then were brought out with no casualties by Carl Elmin.

"Crockers 4-mile line in Bimerick was entirely scooped, and his crew under Poppe forced to run for safety.

"Sutliff and Crocker, on Middle Butte, saw the fire jump the Lochsa River at Macaroni Creek and run to the top of Huckleberry Butte Ridge in approximately 3 minutes - a distance of 2 miles.

"Coleman's Camp Y crew was run out and all line lost. The fire backed into the wind crossing from Alder Creek into Fish Creek below Ant Hill L.O.

"And on the Fish Butte-Lochsa sector, Crew Foreman Buck Weaver and a crew of 150 men were forced to make a desperate run for the Lochsa River from their line under Fish Butte when it could no longer be held. No direct injuries were caused by the fire although there were many cases of mental and physical exhaustion caused by the mad run down the mountain side with only one thought in every mind; that "the fire had them."

"By 5:00 p.m., all men were accounted for at the Lochsa Station. At the same time, the situation was beginning to look critical even there, and preparations were being made to protect men and station.

"Occasional live embers were falling about Lochsa by 6:00 p.m., and at 7:30 p.m. they were raining down by the hundreds and the fire front itself was rapidly closing in. About 8:10 p. m. the climax was reached when the main fire surrounded the station on all sides and overhead. Lewis, Anderson, and about 25 men withstood the onslaught and came through unharmed except for many sore throats, parched lips, and sore eyes caused by the dense smoke and acrid fumes. At one time during the melee, the main pump line was burned in two, but a quick repair job put it back in service. Again and again during the evening the building roofs caught fire, but each time were successfully extinguished. By 9:00 p.m., the worst was over and a welcomed breathing spell afforded.

"The toll exacted that eventful eve at the Lochsa, in addition to the surrounding burned area, was the loss of the equivalent of a 100-man outfit of tools, beds, and some grub which the men were unable to save along with the buildings and themselves. Also, all means of telephone communication were destroyed, the radio being the only connection with the outside world thereafter for several days."

"The Coolwater and Hellgate fires also blew up, the latter causing McGregor to pull the Hellgate camp and move to Idaho Point.

"The situation as it existed that night can be summed up as follows:

"The Pete King, Hellgate, and Coolwater fires were practically joined into one fire with northeastern extremity on Sheep Hill Ridge and southeastern extremity well up Kerr-Lotty Ridge.

"The McLendon Butte fire was well into Willow, Sherman and No-see-um Creeks on the north and east; had burned all of Big Stew Creek and was up Oldman Creek 4 miles on the south and east.

"The only line held throughout the day was in Pete King and Rye Patch drainage along backside of the Pete King fire and Canyon and Rye Patch spots.

Blowups on August 30, 31, and September 1, were second only to those of August 17 from a spectacular and fire control frustration standpoint. The following report excerpts afford some of the highlights of fire control force anguishes and control line losses. It was certainly a miracle that no deaths or serious injuries occurred among the control forces during this most disrupting and discouraging period.

"SECOND DEFENSE ACTION - AUGUST 30

"Sutliff, the 60-man crew scheduled for Obia Creek, and 50 additional men were shifted to Renshaw Creek arriving on line at 11:45 a.m. With this additional force, a control line was completed by 2:30 p.m. from Renshaw Creek around the east end of fire to upper side beneath Fog Mountain where it tied into a double burn. At 3:00 p.m., unburned islands within the fire line in Renshaw and Teepee Creeks blew up and routed the entire 215 men, cutting off the Fog Mountain and Packer Ridge crews from their camps and chasing them all to the river.

"One man received severely scorched lungs while trying to hold a sector of the line and had to be transported out to a hospital. He had not regained consciousness when taken from Renshaw camp. Later, it was found he had fully recovered after several days of convalescing.

"The fire front advanced from Renshaw Creek to Ballinger Creek. A large spot was set 2 miles ahead of the main fire in Pinchot Creek and three others were set on the south side of the Selway River in Jim and Wolf Creeks, about the same distance away.

"The entire Fog Mountain and Packer Ridge camp crews were thrown in with Sutliffs Renshaw crew after the rout. The men were pretty badly shaken and 15 or 20 quit, hiking out that night. The main fire up Renshaw Creek was within 20 chains of Renshaw camp that evening, down to the River and 1 mile above, and it was threatening to close in below camp at any time."

"At the time of the Gedney spot blowup in Teepee and Renshaw, the main fire head in Gedney Creek also blew, running into and around either side of the rear end of the Gedney spot. The Gedney Creek spike camp was burned in this blowup; it had never been occupied after establishment on the 28th. All line east of the Glover-Gedney Ridge was lost.

"AUGUST 31

"The combined Renshaw crew was split up and placed upon the four advance spot fires at daylight. The three south of the river were controlled while, on the Pinchot spot, the crew was insufficient to do more than hold the fire from spreading materially. The Pinchot spot, the largest, was about 40 acres, Jim Creek spot, 25 acres, and the two Wolf Creek spots, 3 acres each.

"Shortly after noon, high winds again came up causing blowups in unburned portions of Teepee and Renshaw Creeks. A spot was set 1 mile across the river on Otter Ridge which immediately blew up and went to over 500 acres in 15 minutes as witnessed by men from the Renshaw camp. It was in an old, single burn. This spot continued on up river reaching Jim and Wolf Creek spots about 5:00 p.m. and forcing the crews working there to flee to the river. From there it respotted back to the north side of the river and then advanced up both sides to Meeker and Martin Creeks by midnight, with several spot fires, 1 or 2 miles in advance.

"The Pinchot spot crew fled to Three Link Cabin, up river some 5 miles where they arrived just in time to battle all night to save the improvements.

"The foremost point of fire joined up with the western end of the Martin Creek burn some time during the night.

"By 2:00 p.m., the safety of Renshaw camp was in jeopardy. Pacific pumps ordered for morning delivery had not arrived. A hand pump and backfire battle was commenced by the camp force, about 10 men, and waged with successive losses until the arrival of the power pumps at 4:00 p.m. At that time the fire was within 3 chains of camp on two sides and in heavy fuel. Fifteen minutes after delivery of the pumps the fire closed in to the river on all sides blocking the trail in or out. With one pump running continuously from arrival until 10:00 p.m., about 1 acre of area was protected and the camp suffered no losses.

"In the meantime, upper Gedney Basin blew up, burning the Packer Ridge and Fog Mountain camps, which were abandoned the 30th.

"The Glade Creek spot was manned within 30 minutes after origin with 28 men, but could not be held. This force was increased to 150 men who worked all night."

"SEPTEMBER 1

"The effects of the August 31 blowup were still in existence and the eastern end of the Pete King fire continued on up both sides of the river to Halfway Creek and Puzzle Point, throwing spot fires 2 miles over Moose Ridge into Magpie and Bitch Creeks.

"The Glade Creek spot was controlled at 9:00 a.m. with a force of 320 men. Final area was about 400 acres.

"The Camp B spot was controlled at 3:00 p.m. at about 300 acres.

"The lower Gedney Creek backfire line was completed during the day and preparations were made by Duff Jefferson, Brandborg, and Lund to fire it out at night. The burning out was not started before the main fire ran across the backfire line and down Gedney Creek to within half a mile of the river. The entire line was then abandoned.

"All line constructed to date in Obia Creek by the Camp 20 crew was lost.

"An increase in burned area of 17,560 acres resulted on this date.

"SEPTEMBER 7 to 20

"There were no blowups to any appreciable extent during this period and as a consequence, all mop up crews rapidly completed their work and were released. All hot spotting and herding crews made good progress, too.

"No further reinforcements were added to any sector of the fire after September 7. Instead, daily releases were made as mop up work was completed on controlled sectors.

"Responsibility of handling of the remaining forces was turned back to the Selway Forest on September 8.

"On September 20, the weather became unsettled and on the 22nd a heavy rainfall came. From that date on, crews were released and camps were pulled as rapidly as it was possible to do so. The last of the outlying camps were moved in on the 26th."

VITAL STATISTICS: Now, let us take a look at the vital statistics involved in the battle for the survival of the Selway National Forest.

FIRE CAMPS: A total of 74 fire camps were established during the Selway fire battle, exclusive of the several camps on Meadow Creek and Martin Creek fires. Access to, duration, and size of camps were: access by road - 24 camps and by road or plane and trail (foot travel and pack stock transportation) - 50 camps. Duration was 1 to 2 days - 13 camps; 3 to 5 days - 8 camps; 6 to 10 days - 10 camps; 11 to 20 days - 12 camps; and 21 to 50 days - 31 camps. Camp sizes were 10 to 50 men - 32 camps; 51 to 100 men - 13 camps; 101 to 200 men - 16 camps; 201 to 300 men - 11 camps, over 300 men - 2 camps (Pete King base and McLendon Butte Camp X). This latter camp had 400 CCC and 200 NIRA for a total of 600 men and was used from August 12 to September 9. Tom Lommasson was camp boss and C.B. Sutliff was fire boss. It is quite possible that this was a first in fire suppression camp size and duration.

Five camps were burned up during the battle; one 30-man, one 75-man, two 100-man, and one 210-man. Of the five camps burned, two could probably have been saved had manpower and pack stock been available to do the job. In addition to these established camps, the equivalent of a 100-man camp outfit of tools, equipment, supplies, and bedding was burned during the August 17 battle for the Lochsa Ranger Station.

TRANSPORTATION - MOTOR AND PACKSTOCK: All freight and hired fire fighter personnel hauling between sources outside the National Forests and the Selway Forest fire area was handled by commercial transportation.

Transportation of all Forest Service personnel, including Forest Officers, seasonal overhead, and crewmen including CCC and NIRA personnel, were transported, inter-Forest, by Forest Service trucks and cars. Likewise, all equipment supplies and personnel were transported within general fire area by Forest Service owned or hired trucks, cars, and pack stock. This part of the transportation job required:

75 trucks for a total of180,000 miles
15 F. S. cars for a total of15,000 miles
25 hired trucks for a total of38,000 miles
115 vehicles for a total of233,000 miles

Pack stock transportation required:

150 head F.S. stock for a total of7,000 animal days
325 head hired stock for a total of12,500 animal days
475 head19,500 animal days

"CONTROL EFFORT: Line construction, held and lost records were very inaccurately kept in many cases and were not kept at all in others. Therefore, to show the exact amount of fire line constructed, held, and lost is impossible. However, the best information available has been rounded up and the following approximation set forth:

Amount of final perimeter intensively worked - 200 miles
Amount of final perimeter extensively worked - 110 miles
Amount of final perimeter not worked - 100 miles
         Final perimeter
410 miles

Total line held - 310 miles
Total line lost - 100 miles
Total line constructed - 410 miles

Man-days per chain of line constructed - 3.1 days
Man-days per chain of line held - 4.1 days"

"Percentage of constructed line held
75.5%"

INITIATION OF BULLDOZER LINE CONSTRUCTION: What is believed to be a first in mechanized fire line construction was the use of bulldozers during the period August 16 through 26 on the McLendon Butte fire. One "Cletrac 55" was put into use August 16. A second dozer was put to work the 24th and a third dozer on the 25th. The use of the dozers in heavy fuels created by a 1919 fire was the key to controlling about 20 miles of fire perimeter. A separate report was made covering this initial use of bulldozers on fire control line construction.

ACCIDENTS, INJURIES, AND FATALITIES:

Even though safety rules and standards were few and far below what they are today, the so-called old timers in the fire game were inherently safety conscious - not only for themselves, but for their fellow workers. Despite the 2,500 CCC men and overhead with no fire experience and 2,800 NIRA and transient fire fighters, most of who had little or no fire experience, fatalities and serious accidents were exceptionally low.

Early in the battle, the two first and only fatalities occurred. These were caused by inexperienced CCC men (boys) snag falling in a fire line construction crew.

Except for the two CCC fatalities, there were no others, nor were there any real serious, permanently disabling injuries. There were the normal number of minor accidents such as bumps, bruises and bellyaches, also a few physical and mental exhaustion cases.

Summing up the overall holocaust battle, it must be said the Selway battle rated tops for low number of accidents, injuries, and fatalities.

"DAMAGES: There have been no damage surveys made of the areas burned over. Due to this fact and the lack of up-to-date timber estimates or type maps, an accurate damage appraisal could not be worked up. Using the best information available, the total damages have been estimated to be approximately $234,000. The damages were distributed as follows:

Timber$ 12,000
Young growth17,000
Sub marginal timber and young growth100,000
Protection types84,000
Improvements19,500
Grazing1,500

$234,000

"In addition to the above, there was an inestimable amount of damage done from a recreational standpoint through destruction of range feed for game, especially elk, and in the destruction of fish and game itself."

It should be noted here that for some political or other reason unknown to the author of the "Selway Fires History," the damage figures quoted were handed down by higher authority. It was the opinion of the author, at the time, the overall damages were at least $2,000,000. By 1975 values, the damages probably exceeded $10,000,000.

"SUPPRESSION COSTS: Final cost figures were not available at the time of this compilation, but the following totals were arrived at from Regional Office and Selway costs and liability records as of December 15, 1934, and are considered to be very close to final:

Indirect(Salaries $9,500 Expense $1,000 )
(Forest officer's time and expense ) - $ 10,500
(CCC & ECW @ $.25 per hr. - 12 hr. a day ) 150,000$160,500

Direct(Labor ) 285,000
FF(Transportation ) 76,500

(Subsistence ) 126,500

(Other from FF ) 35,500

(R0, O.M. charges, C.P. Eqpt., etc. ) 223,500747,000
Direct E.C.F. charges - labor and other
4,000
     Total Cost
$911,500

     Total Cost plus damages
$1,145,000

Average cost per man-day, including all classes of labor (including direct and indirect)$ 9.00
Average cost plus damage per man-day11.30
Subsistence costs per man-day1.25
Average cost per chain of line constructed27.79
Average cost per chain of line held36.75"

What would the costs amount to in 1976? Probably several million dollars and, in all probability, the suppression results would have been little if any more successful under the same climatic and ground conditions.

Shortly after the fall rains had cleared away the smoke, and snowfall had covered the blackened forest, the Selway was divided up between the Clearwater, Bitterroot, and Nezperce National Forests. The Selway Forest Supervisor's Office at Kooskia, Idaho, was closed out, the Lochsa and Pete King Ranger Districts were transferred to the Clearwater, the Moose Creek and Bear Creek Districts to the Bitterroot, and the Fenn (O'Hara) District to the Nezperce National Forests. And so ended one of the most picturesque National Forests of Region One, and perhaps the lower 48 states.

I wonder what would be the fire control results, costs and damages today, under the same climatic and ground conditions, road accessibility, etc., and assuming the benefits of present day aerial fire control smokejumpers and fire retardant solutions.

CHEWELASH MOUNTAIN LOOKOUT TOWER
Colville National Forest
from 1950 photo by W.E. Steuerwald


<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

region/1/early_days/4/sec18.htm
Last Updated: 15-Oct-2010
Forest History Society Electronic edition courtesy of the
Forest History Society.