East Portal in Mineral County, Montana — The American West (Mountains)
An Unlikely Safe Haven
“Fires of yesterday and last night have swept practically all the country from Avery to St. Regis. Nothing could have lived in the mountains last evening except for the tunnels.” - E. J. Pearson, Chief Engineer, Puget Sound Railroad
Fleeing from the fires, people jumped into rivers, sheltered in mine shafts or ran for their lives. Others chose escape on the railroad, but sometimes even the trains could not move faster than the fires. An engineer named C. H. Marshall tried to stop for everyone stranded along his line, but soon found it too dangerous to continue. He turned the train and sped toward a tunnel with the railcars literally smoking from the intense heat. Marshall remembered the deafening roar of the fire with heat so intense that no one on the train could even stand upright. Remarkably, all of his passengers made it out alive.
Another train found safety in the nearly two-mile-long Taft Tunnel. As you enter the tunnel, imagine the incredible noise, fear and heat that the men, women and children on board experienced as they waited in this dark refuge for the raging fire to pass.
Location. 47° 23.782′ N, 115° 38.101′ W. Marker is in East Portal, Montana, in Mineral County. Marker can be reached from Rainy Creek Road (Federal Road 506) 2 miles south of Exit 5 (Taft) (Interstate 9). Touch for map. Located at the Route of the Hiawatha Trailhead. Marker is in this post office area: Saltese MT 59867, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Building From the Ashes (here, next to this marker); When the Mountains Roared (a few steps from this marker); Douse the Flames and Climb Aboard (a few steps from this marker); A Battle That Could Not Be Won (a few steps from this marker); Pluck and Good Fortune (a few steps from this marker); The Route of the Hiawatha (within shouting distance of this marker); Life Along the Line (within shouting distance of this marker); The Wickedest City (within shouting distance of this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in East Portal.
More about this marker. On the bottom are two photos with the caption, "Photo on the left shows the inspection of the final construction of the Taft Tunnel in 1908. Today, the Taft Tunnel remains very much as it was during the 1910 fires. The rails and lights are gone, but the original timbers, incessant water and cold temperatures are a reminder of exactly what a haven the tunnels were over a century ago."
photo: Harry English (1908-1910), Historic Wallace Preservation Society, Inc.
photo: Wendy Smith
Also see . . .
1. 1910 Fire Commemoration Information Site. US Forest Service (Submitted on August 3, 2011, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.)
2. U.S. Forest Service History - The 1910 Fires. The Forest History Society (Submitted on August 3, 2011, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.)
3. The West is Burning Up! The 1910 Fire. By Jim Petersen, Evergreen Magazine, Winter Edition 1994-1995 (Submitted on August 3, 2011, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.)
Categories. • Disasters • Railroads & Streetcars •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on August 3, 2011, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia. This page has been viewed 463 times since then and 5 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3. submitted on August 3, 2011, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.