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Mural will pay tribute to Mann Gulch smokejumpers

Mural will pay tribute to Mann Gulch smokejumpers
Posted at 12:23 PM, Mar 28, 2024

The City of Helena commission has unanimously approved a mural for the Lyndale tunnel. The design, named Wildfire, commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Mann Gulch Fire.

“A different story on each side and within the tunnel. On one side we’ve got Gates of the Mountains, very historical area. We’ve got a lot of animals, plant life. And then once you go through the tunnel, on one side we have sort of wildfire lifecycle, which is very important in nature. Other side is kind of Missouri River, Sleeping Giant, more plants, animals, and then other side is a tribute to the smokejumpers from the Mann Gulch Fire,” said Elise Perpignano, the artist and lifelong Helena resident.

The Mann Gulch Fire was first officially reported around noon on August 5, 1949. The Forest Service dispatched 15 smokejumpers from Missoula to the remote area.

The smokejumpers landed at Mann Gulch about a half-mile away from the fire where they met a fire guard from the nearby campground.

High winds caused the fire to suddenly expand, cutting off the men's route and forcing them back uphill.

The massive fire ended up overtaking the group and of the 16 men on site, only three would end up surviving.

“It’s something that I feel like most residents of Helena have sort of a connection or a soft spot for,” said Perpignano.

Elise Perpignano
Elise Perpignano

Perpignano also designed and painted the Centennial Trail tunnel under Last Chance Gulch, connecting Memorial Park and Centennial Park.

“What better way to express our artist views than to go on the electric boxes, to go on the trash cans and also these empty tunnels,” Collins said.

The Lyndale tunnel runs under Lyndale Avenue and connects the Great Northern Town Center and Centennial Park. It is a popular route for community members.

Nineteen submissions were received for the mural. Wildfire was not the original recommendation from the Public Arts Committee, but it was important to the commission that a Helena artist was chosen.

“The public arts committee selected the Queen of the Rockies mural, but the staff and the commission voted on the Wildfire. It’s a local artist,” said Helena mayor Wilmot Collins.

The city will pay Perpignano $15,000, but the contract stipulates the artist will supply all materials needed for the mural with those funds.

The project is expected to start in early April and be completed by the end of July.

“I’m very grateful to have this opportunity and to continue to grow our local art scene and I think it will be really beautiful when it is all done and tied together,” said Perpignano.