Firefighting Hero Pulaski Honored with Renovated Idaho Trail

WALLACE, Idaho (AP) -- The mine shaft that made Ed Pulaski a firefighting legend 95 years ago can now be reached on a renovated hiking trail, a project led by a high school guidance counselor and financed with money from Congress and private donors.

At a dedication ceremony Saturday _ the anniversary of the 1910 ''Big Blowup'' fire _ a white-gloved Forest Service honor guard carried chrome-plated versions of the combination ax and hoe tool named for Pulaski.

''History was made here,'' said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, who helped secure $300,000 from Congress to pay for the trail. Another $147,000 in private funds was raised for the project.

The Big Blowup killed at least 85 people, destroyed entire towns and burned 3 million acres along the Montana-Idaho border. It prompted the U.S. Forest Service to begin aggressively fighting wildfires for the rest of the 20th century.

Pulaski, an early Forest Service ranger, is celebrated for leading his crew to the abandoned mine shaft, saving 39 of the 45 firefighters as raging flames swept over the creek valley. The tool he invented eventually become standard equipment for wildland firefighters across the country.

The trail to the mine starts about a half-mile south of Wallace. Construction won't be completed until early October, but project leaders wanted to dedicate the site on the anniversary of the fire.

A narrow, steep path once led to the mine shaft, but the path crossed private land and dangerous slopes. The Forest Service stopped maintaining it about five years ago.

The new trail is safer, flatter and follows the creek valley, said Jack Dorrell, who helped design the new route for the Forest Service. ''It's going to be a nice trail, a pretty walking trail.''

The mine shaft where Pulaski and his men took refuge is now blocked with steel bars, but the trail runs past trees charred in the fire.

The dedication ceremony featured a massive cedar stump burned in that 1910 inferno. A green ribbon circling the stump was cut with Pulaski's own pulaski tool Saturday.

Jim See, the Mullan High School guidance counselor who spearheaded the three-year effort to build a new trail to the site, said the project honors the firefighters who died nearly a century ago.

''We honor them with this trail,'' he said. ''We honor all wildland firefighters past, present and future with this trail.''

The trail is central to the history of the Forest Service, which was founded in 1905 _ just five year before the fires, said Mark Rey, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary.

''The 1910 fires gave the new agency a defining purpose: To demonstrate that destructive wildfire could be controlled and prevented,'' he said.