Pend d'Oreille Review   August 26, 1910
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Gang of Government Fire Fighters Get Hemmed in at Cabinet – Two Burned to Death.



W. P. Brashear of Clark Fork and 32 men employed under his charge in fighting a forest fire in Defoe canyon four miles southwest of Cabinet, were caught in a whirlwind of fire and falling timber Saturday afternoon. That any of the men were saved was a miracle and two men of the party burned to death. The same fire, sweeping down from the mountain above, swept the Cabinet flat, as a rich section of timber land lying to the west of Cabinet is known, and burned out a large belt of white pine and cedar. The fire was a furnace and sheet of flame and swept all before it with a wall of fire which was at times full three miles in width.

Breshear and his fire fighters had gone in to fight fire which had been raging in the mountain several days. The fire which did the damage and took its toll in two human lives swept over from the big fire on the opposite side of the range from the Coeur d'Alene country. The two fires met in the Defoe gulch, the bigger fire overpowering the smaller one as it swept all before it down the mountain side and swept the gulch from side to side. Brashear went out to Cabinet in the morning Saturday to consult with Ed Stahl, assistant supervisor of the Pend d'Oreille reserve. The men had a road as far as the Defoe clearing and had put in a trail a mile and a half beyond there. When Brashear got back to the clearing about noon he found his gang of firefighters coming down the trail to the clearing and being driven back by the big fire which was sweeping down the gulch. He proceeded on up the trail until he had met all his men and they were accounted for. The party then took refuge at the clearing and from 1:30 in the afternoon for an hour the great fire swept over them. There was a spring on the clearing and some of the men wet their blankets and coats at the spring and lay while the fire swept past them and on down below. Some idea of the heat can be gotten from the fact that after the fire had passed over the men the spring was found dry. All the fire fighting tools were burned. The camp, with $400 worth of provisions, a range and full complement of camp supplies, went up quicker than it takes to tell. The men lay on their faces while the flames shot over and about them. Some of the men's clothing caught fire and their blankets blazed at times, but they succeeded in lasting it out. After the fire had swept beyond them two men, strangers who came into the camp the day before from Spokane tried to get out towards Cabinet and these are the men who were missed. The rest of the party stayed together. Brashear and eight of them remained in the burned over clearing all Saturday night and worked their way down the gulch and into Cabinet Sunday morning.

The first news received at Clark Fork was that Brashear and ten men had been burned to death and there was a great excitement there Saturday afternoon. Silver Potter, aged 14, son of William Potter of Clark Fork, was employed to take in supplies to the camp and it was reported that the lad was lost. Stahl, the assistant supervisor, and another man started out Saturday night for the clearing and found all the men accounted for but the two missing from afternoon. Some of the men pressed on to Cabinet late in the afternoon and evening, and the Potter lad was put on a horse and another horseman followed after him and the way they hit the road among the felled trees and flying timbers made a wild ride. The Potter lad early Sunday morning rode his horse into Clark Fork much to the relief of his father and mother.

Brashear, with his eyes like two holes in a wet blanket, got down to Clark Fork Sunday. “It sure was a bad one,” he said in relating his experience, “and the wonder is that any of us were left to tell it. The danger from fire was not as great as the danger from falling timber. The fire was preceded by a cyclone of wind and when I reached the men as they were coming down the trail trees were falling in every direction and we were in imminent danger every minute. We all got down to the clearing safely and the two men who were missing would have been all right if they had remained with the bunch. I followed them as far as the fence when they insisted on trying to get out and told them they could not live in the fire down below but they seemed to be stampeded and insisted on trying to get out. When you see big strong fellows get sick and go batty and cry like children you have some idea what we endured in that furnace of heat for the good of two hours. One of the best fire fighters I had I had to load on a horse and send him out. He fainted away. The little Potter boy had his nerve. We put him on his horse, loaded the fellow who had fainted on another horse and one of the men got in front of him and they hiked her out down the road to Cabinet. We had but the two horses and the rest of us had to take care of ourselves as best we could. My dog stayed with me awhile but he went into the cook house before it burned and I heard him whine when the flames struck the cook house and licked it up. I did not see him again. We lay on the ground while the fire went over. It seemed to go in a sheet of flame first high in the air; then it burned all round us and licked up everything. One of the men was badly burned on the hands. One of the other lads got in a bad way, moaned and prayed, and did not put the sparks out as they fell on him. He caught fire several times and the fellow who got his hands so badly burned put the fire out as it caught in the fellow's clothing. The spring was covered with cinders and it was with difficulty that we got to the water to wet the blankets and coats.”

The two men who were burned to death in the Cabinet fire were J. Plant, aged 45, of Hope, Virginia, and J. Harris, aged 25, of Montreal, Quebec. Their bodies were found Tuesday near the clearing where their companions were. They had evidently started to follow the trail, given it up and tried to get back to the rest in the clearing, missed the way and gone further and their charred bodies were found about 100 yards from the clearing. One of them was found lying on his face, evidently as he had fallen suffocated. The other had made a terrible struggle. His clothes were scattered about him and one foot was burned off. They were burned beyond recognition.

Justice Fleming and William Rowlan of Clark Fork went and got the bodies and they were buried at Clark Fork Wednesday.