St. Maries Gazette August 26,1910
FROM FOREST FIRES
Fierce Fight Lasting Over Forty Hours St.
Maries Has Miraculous Escape From
Being Wiped off the Map
For many weeks the people of St. Maries had been
reading heart-rending accounts of loss of life and property by fire in
neighboring towns and districts, and were congratulating themselves upon the
exemption from danger they were enjoying, and as the season of dry weather was
drawing to a close it was fondly hoped that they were not to be called upon to
face the experience of other towns visited by fire.
Away to the northwest a fire had been making slow progress for several days prior to Saturday August 20, but it was not considered dangerous as it was in a country sparsely timbered, and likely to burn itself out long before heavy timber was reached. On Friday this fire began forging eastward at a rapid rate and shortly after the noon hour, the wind having increased in velocity in the meantime, it was fast approaching heavy timber and assuming serious proportions. But this was on the opposite bank of the river from St. Maries and caused no anxiety in regard to the town, and the day closed with only a few small fires appearing on the hill tops several miles north and west of St. Maries. Saturday opened with a cloudless sky and as on the preceding day with the arrival of the noon hour the wind again increased in velocity, and by mid-afternoon the territory for miles along the north bank of the St. Joe was one suthing mass of flames and about the same time a cloud of smoke was seen to rise a few miles to the southwest of St. Maries and those who could read the signs awoke to the realization that the long period of exemption from a dangerous fire was at an end.
The smoke cloud heralded the approach of the fire fiend in a direct line with St. Maries. The cloud kept growing bigger and bigger and when darkness set in had forged so far ahead that the flames could be seen leaping along the sky line ever approaching nearer the town, and between 12 and 1 o’clock a. m. it darted over the highest peak about two miles from the city and tore down the mountain side at a terrific pace. Up to this time the wind seemed to be blowing due east, but as the flames jumped the summit of the mountain, it veered several points to the south.
This change of wind, was a godsend to the people of St. Maries for it carried the firey trail with it and removed them from the danger line for the time being. But it carried the blaze east nearly as far as the town stretched along the foothills, and suddenly the wind took another track, changing from southeast to northwest, driving the fire back with it and ever nearer the inhabited portion of the townsite.
The change of wind, while it brought with it increased danger to the apparently doomed city, gave the body of fire fighters organized early in the evening an opportunity to stop the deadly march of the blaze by back firing. It was a case of fighting fire with fire and this method was taken advantage of, line after line of back fires being started until at last the fierce blaze was brought under control.
About this time the railway company began pouring men into the fire zone from both east and west, and by daylight Sunday hope of saving the town from destruction began to rise.
At noon Sunday a second whirlwind of smoke and flame came from the west and only a repetition of the back firing tactics, the clearing of trails and fierce fighting of hundreds of willing hands kept the flames from buildings on the outskirts of the city. By midafternoon the flames had crossed the St. Maries river and were tearing along the mountains on all sides of town.
St. Maries was surrounded by raging forest fires, and the people were frantic with fear. Many removed their household effects to the river bottoms and with their children watched with awe the splendidly terrific spectacle. The hills on all sides for miles back from the valley were one continuous mass of flame. It was fierce beyond description, but everything comes to an end and the fierceness of the fire surrounding St. Maries shortened the period of suspense under which the people were laboring. Daylight Monday brought lasting hope to the dazed people.
While all danger was not over, it could be seen that watchfulness was all that was required to save every home in the city nestling in the valley. The town was saved by a miracle. The flames seemed to leap at the buildings nestling amidst the timber in the outskirts and then draw back as if in frolic, leaving the buildings unscathed but burning the underbrush and foliage of the trees clear up to the walls of the buildings.
The only immediate loss the people here will sustain will be through damage to furniture in the process of carting it to and from places of safety. One frame dwelling and a tent house were burned inside the city limits. The loss was small but some in the vicinity of the town did not fare so well. Several barns were burned and large quantities of stovewood.
But, if the direct loss to the town is small, the indirect loss caused by the burning of so large an amount of valuable timber as was contained within the burned area, would be hard to place in figures. Not until the smoke has cleared away and a survey of the burned area taken can a satisfactory estimate of the damage done to standing timber be arrived at, but that it will not fall short of 150,000,000 feet is the opinion of men well posted in the situation.
The three townships within sight of St. Maries recently filed upon at the land office in Coeur d’Alene were swept clean, nothing but charred stumps being left of some magnificent timber growing on the land. This tract alone must have carried upwards of 100,000,000 feet of merchantable timber.
This loss, great as it is, need cause no anxiety, and when a thorough knowledge of the situation is obtained it may be that the actual loss will be much less than now seems apparent. At any rate the timber resources of the St. Joe and St. Maries countries are so extensive that the loss, serious as it is, will have no lasting effect detrimental to the growth and development of the town or the surrounding country.