Before 1940, fires burned more trees than were harvested by the lumber companies. The worst fire in the history of North America was in northern Idaho and western Montana in 1910. Though it burned only two days, the Great Fire of 1910 destroyed 3 million acres of forest, making a burn 160 miles long and fifty miles wide. Four towns and many mines and mills were destroyed. More than 100 people died when they were trapped by the fast-moving flames. Elk City was saved by its women and children, but one part of Wallace burned to the ground. One-sixth of all the forest in northern Idaho was burned. Scars from this great fire could be seen along U. S. Highway 10 (the old Mullan Road) between Wallace and Missoula, Montana, for more than fifty years.
One good thing came from this terrible fire. It made more Americans want something done to save our forests. Congress had not been very interested in the Forest Service after Theodore Roosevelt left the White House in 1909. After the Great Fire, however, Congress saw the need to give the Forest Service more money. Since then, the Forest Service has grown, and today it does a fine job of protecting our forests.
The Forest Service is now well known for its fighting of forest fires. It has a system of forest roads, telephone lines, and lookouts. Airplanes also fly over the forests looking for fires. When a fire is spotted, everything possible is done to put it out before it gets bigger. Fire fighters (called smokejumpers) are rushed to the fire by airplane. Airplanes are used to dump water and chemicals on the fire. Forest fires are still a danger to our forests, and every citizen must do all he can to prevent them.The Forest Service also protects the forests by fighting insect infestations and diseases which kills millions of trees every year.