Mann Gulch Fire

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  • Topic: Mann Gulch fire, Helena National Forest, Gates of the Mountains Wilderness
  • Pages : 1 (309 words )
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  • Published : January 29, 2006
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The Mann Gulch Fire
On August 5, 1949, a wildfire overran 16 smokejumpers and firefighters in Mann Gulch on the Helena National Forest in Montana. The fire was most likely started by lightning from a thunderstorm. It was noticed promptly by rangers, who dispatched 16 smokejumpers, under the command of Wagner Dodge. Thought to be much smaller than it actually was, the fire quickly grew large and out of control, covering 3000 acres in 10 minutes during its blow up stage. Upon approaching Mann Gulch, the crew noticed the fire had already crossed onto their side of the gulch. Seeing the extreme danger in this, the order to retreat back up the slope was given and the men moved up the hill. Dodge later gave the order for the men to drop their pack to, something many had already done. Eventually the fire surrounded them by all sides and was quickly moving in on them. Communication began to break down amongst the exhausted men. The only thing that would provide them with refuge they believed would be the top of the ridge. One of the men, Bob Sallee had already reached the top of the ridge. This man would end up being one of the three survivors. From that ridge he saw foreman Dodge lighting a match in some grass. Looking quite counter productive from a far, Dodge was actually lighting an escape fire, hoping it would quickly burn out, allowing his men to get into the burned area and survive. Yet, none of the crew decided to follow this plan and consequently were burned alive. Only Wait Rumsey, Bob Sallee, and Wagner Dodge survived this tragedy. If it weren't for lack of communication and confidence in someone's seemingly insane plan, man more would be alive today to tell the story of the Mann Gulch Fire.
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