August 1910 was the driest month in the Northern Rockies since 1894. On July 26th a massive dry thunderstorm swept over parts of Idaho and Montana starting a series of small fires. By August 10 with high afternoon winds and more rainless storms there will be over 2,500 separate fires blazing under extremely dry conditions. Throughout the west the sunsets will be recorded as “blood red”.
The National Forst Service is in its infancy. Even with the most assertive out-reach possible there was not even one firefighter per blaze that could be scrounged from the bars, jails, backwoods, and train yards to battle the blazes by August 6th. (Shortly afterwards President Taft will send some of the Army to firefight.)
One of the problems was the lack of proper funding from Congress to pay the wages of firefighters.
It was then that Elers Kock, a young Yale graduate who was the ranger for three national forests in the northern Rockies, then a newly wed man who had made promises of a home and better way of life for his wife, made a decision. He went to the bank in Missoula and withdrew his personal savings. He then urged two other rangers, one of them just age 22 “with the dew of Yale still on him” who only had a small savings, to do the same so to pay some of the firefighters to keep fighting the blazes.
There are so many who have chided and tried to chip away at those who are government workers, attempting to demean them and make them into scoundrels and ones who take from the public taxpayer.
At a time when America will encounter the largest conflagration of fire ever (3 million acres in 48 hours will be devoured) some of the best of the human spirit will be demonstrated by government workers.
From The Big Burn by Timothy Egan