By Steve Crump
Idaho had its Great Fire of 1910 that killed 87 people and its Teton Dam collapse of 1976 that washed away 11 lives, but what was the greatest weather-related disaster in the state’s 120-year history?
It wasn’t — as your grandparents may have told you — the Great Winter of 1949-50, which essentially shut down southern Idaho’s transportation for six weeks and its economy for a month. Yet there were fewer than a dozen casualties from the Mother of All Snow Storms.
It was an avalanche near Hailey in Feb. 25, 1917, that set the standard.
Three separate snowslides came crashing down the East Fork drainage of the Big Wood River and merged into one, killing 15 miners and injuring 17.
The so-called North Star Mine Disaster happened at 3:30 on a Sunday morning, and the victims never knew what hit them.
It followed the biggest three-day snowfall in Hailey’s recorded history — before or since.
The avalanche carried away the bunkhouse and the orehouse, destroyed part of the gravity train to the mill, tore out power lines and lifted the mill itself six inches off its foundation.
Before the snow stopped sliding, the avalanche had traveled a mile, wiping out everything in a 300- to 400-foot swath.
Some of the dead were buried under 30 feet of snow.
The North Star was booming in the winter of 1916-17, with silver prices climbing as World War I dragged on. By New Year’s Eve, it employed almost 300 miners.
Most left after the big avalanche, and by the time North Star was fully back in production the World War I silver boom had peaked.
The North Star disaster ranks as the second-worst mining disaster in Idaho history, surpassed by the 1972 explosion and fire at the Sunshine Mine near Kellogg that killed 91.
Steve Crump is the Times-News Opinion editor.
If it’s poignant, weird, funny or quirky and it happens in south-central Idaho, I want to hear about it.
Call me at 735-3223 or write firstname.lastname@example.org.