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New mural will honor Mann Gulch Fire smokejumpers

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Posted at 4:14 PM, Jun 13, 2024

HELENA — Elise Perpignano is painting the Centennial Tunnel mural, which commemorates the Mann Gulch fire and the smokejumpers who died in the fire.

“This particular fire was one of the most, actually is the most tragic smoke jumping accidents to ever happen. But there is a lot of silver lining to come out of it. The Forest Service and firefighters learned how to better fight fires and learned they can’t treat all fires the same. So, there was a lot of growth to come out of it, even though it was very tragic,” says Perpignano.

Perpignano has been working hard to paint the Centennial mural on the pedestrian underpass under West Lyndale Avenue.



After finishing another mural last summer along the tunnel walls that connect Centennial and Memorial Parks, she brought out her paintbrushes once again to bring some color and history to the other side of the park.

Perpignano was approached by the U.S. Forest Service about highlighting the Mann Gulch fire in her mural. This August marks the 75th anniversary of the fire.

Artist Elise Perpignano
Elise Perpignano

“The Forest Service reached out to me and were really excited about this idea. And we kind of joined forces and I love history, so we were talking with them and the Smokejumpers Association over in Missoula, and made sure all the graphics and everything were in line with what actually happened, and what the parachutes actually look like, and the right kind of plane, all that good stuff,” says Perpignano.

There will be three days of public events around the August 5th anniversary to commemorate those who lost their lives in the fire.

Events include a viewing of the movie “Higgins Ridge," wreath-making, wildfire home safety tips, and an event at the Capitol in which the same plane that sent out the Mann Gulch smokejumpers will do a fly-over and a speech from the son of famed author Norman Maclean.

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“We’re doing multiple events in town that honor the memories of the men. And this seemed like a great opportunity to have a installation in the center of town where their memories would be honored,” says Chiara Cipriano, spokesperson for the Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest.

The north side of the tunnel will focus on the Mann Gulch fire, featuring Miss Montana, the plane that dropped the smoke jumpers as well as a few smokejumpers themselves, the inside of the tunnel will feature the wildfire life cycle as well as the sleeping giant and scenes from the Missouri River. The south side will feature Gates of the Mountain, quotes from Meriwether Lewis, and a tribute to the Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest.

An anti-graffiti coating will be put on to help prevent others from painting over her work.

She hopes to complete the project by August.