Edward Pulaski Tunnel and Placer Creek Escape Route

Coeur d'Alene Trail

Nature & Environmental Management Politics, Policy & Justice

Interpretive signs along the Pulaski Tunnel Trail tell the story of Ed Pulaski’s heroic attempt to save his fire-fighting crew during the massive fire that swept through this forest in 1910.

On the night of July 26, 1910, a storm formed over the Bitterroot Mountains of the Idaho panhandle and western Montana. It was “not an isolated thunder boomer or two clapping around the valley,” according to writer Timothy Egan, “but a rolling, continuous, full-throated electrical storm.” [1] Coming in the midst of a dry summer, lightning set the 3 million acres of forest ablaze in what became known as the Great Fires of 1910. Ed Pulaski was an assistant forest ranger with the newly formed U.S. Forest Service, an underfunded, under-resourced federal agency charged with protecting the national forest lands that President Teddy Roosevelt set aside in 1907 for conservation in the public interest. Fighting fires was part of the Forest Service’s responsibility, but the size and scope of the 1910 fire was far beyond the capacity of the agency’s scrappy Western rangers to fight. William Howard Taft had assumed the presidency in 1910, and he lacked Roosevelt’s passion for conservation—he was politically weaker and more susceptible to the pressure of moneyed interests like timber and mining companies. These industries wanted nothing more than to take back federal forest lands for their own profit. Instead of investing in the Forest Service, Taft fired agency head Gifford Pinchot for criticizing him in front of Congress. [2]

After the storm set fire to the Bitterroots on that July evening, forest rangers were ordered to start rounding up men who could help them fight it. That’s how Pulaski ended up here a few days later with 45 men. The winds whipped the fire into such an intense blaze that—on the urgings of Pulaski—the men were forced to seek refuge in an old mining tunnel. All but six survived. Learn more about the fire and Pulaski’s heroic actions to save his firefighting crew as you walk along the Pulaski Tunnel Trail and read the interpretive signage.


  • [1] Timothy Egan, The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009), 113.
  • [2] Ibid., 95–98.

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