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Memorial events planned for the anniversary of the Mann Gulch fire

Mann Gulch Fire
Posted at 10:29 AM, Apr 12, 2024

HELENA — The U.S. Forest Service has released plans for remembering the Mann Gulch fire on its 75th anniversary this summer. The Mann Gulch is the deadliest smokejumper incident on record.

Thirteen smokejumpers and a US Forest Service employee lost their lives fighting that fire on August 5th, 1949.

Community members, the Forest Service, the Montana Discovery Foundation, and the National Smokejumpers Association will host a memorial tribute in August 2024 to the smokejumpers and firefighters who lost their lives.

The Mann Gulch fire, north of Helena, started with a lightning strike.

When the fire blew up toward the smoke jumpers fighting it, crew foreman Wagner Dodge set a small fire to create a safe area that had already burned and tried to direct the men toward it, but due to confusion, the men continued away from the fire.

Dodge was one of just three men who survived the fire.

The fire and Dodge’s actions greatly influenced the future of wildland firefighting, including the creation of the Forest Fire Laboratory.

Here is the schedule of events:

In partnership with our local theater, the Myrna Loy, we plan to show PBS special, “Higgins Ridge.” The documentary outlines a fire that occurred a decade after the Mann Gulch Fire and eerily reflects similar circumstances. The crew draws upon what they had learned from the Mann Gulch Fire and how it led to a better outcome for their crew. One of the survivors of this fire will participate in a post-film discussion panel joined by other key planning committee members. Refreshments and venue for this event are sponsored courtesy of AARP.

Walking Mall Event – Montana Discovery Foundation in partnership with Ten Mile Creek Brewing will unveil a special commemorative beer. There will be other community member displays on the walking mall including smokejumpers from the Missoula base, a wreath making event, and a few demonstrations that model fire behavior alongside booths to inform community members how to harden their homes/create defensible space around their properties.

Capitol Event – All partners will host a commemorative evening on the west lawn of the Montana State Capitol building. The evening will include remarks from U.S. Forest Service leadership, followed by John N. Maclean (son of Norman Maclean who wrote Young Men and Fire) as our keynote speaker. Weather and FAA clearance permitting, Miss Montana (the same plane that dropped the smokejumpers in 1949) will pass over the Capitol. We will also have wreaths set up to honor each of the men.

Visit to Mann Gulch/Meriweather Day Use Area – The planning committee will arrange boats to transport family members and key members of the planning committee to the Meriweather Day Use Area. The hike up to the monuments at Mann Gulch is strenuous and a boat shuttle will leave at 8 a.m. for anyone wanting to participate in the hike in. At 9 a.m., shuttles directly to the Meriweather Day Use Area will begin. The Forest Service will place a wreath on each memorial. For those not able to participate in the hike, you are invited to come directly to the pavilion where we will close out the morning with a meal.

More information about the memorial can be found on the Montana Discovery Foundation’s website.

Mann Gulch 75th graphic