Date Posted:5 August 2019 

70 years ago, August 5, 1949, Mann Gulch wildfire claimed the lives of 13 men and burned almost 5,000 hectares. The fire occurred in Western Montana near Missouri River. Within minutes, the wilfire fire spread through thousands of acres, trapping 15 smokejumpers and a fireguard in Mann Gulch on the Helena National Forest in Montana. Only three people survived the ordeal. The tragedy prompted the U.S. Forest Service to rethink their fire training, safety and research.

One of the survivors, Smokejumper Foreman Wag Dodge lit an ‘escape fire’ to create a preburnt area in which to shelter. He stated “When the main fire reached my area, I lay down on the ground on my side and poured water from my canteen on my handkerchief over my mouth and nose and held my face as close to the ground as I could while the flames flashed over me. There were three extreme gusts of hot air that almost lifted me from the ground as the fire passed over me. It was running in the grass and also flashing through the tree tops. By 6:10 p.m. the fire had passed by and I stood up. My clothing had not been scorched and I had no burns.”

In addition, Mr. Dodge also told investigators that he explained to the firefighters nearby that after the escape fire spread and cooled in the interior, they should take refuge in the new burned area with him. Unfortunately, none of the firefighters heeded his suggestion.

The Casualties on the Mann Gulch Fire

Robert J. Bennett
Eldon E. Diettert
James O. Harrison
William J. Hellman
Philip R. McVey
David R. Navon
Leonard L. Piper
Stanley J. Reba
Marvin L. Sherman
Joseph B. Sylvia
Henry J. Thol, Jr.
Newton R. Thompson
Silas R. Thompson

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