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Mann Gulch Wildfire, 1949


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On August 4, 1949, a lightning induced fire started along the south ridge of Mann Gulch, located twenty miles north of Helena, Montana. The fire was spotted the next day and a team of fifteen smokejumpers was dispatched. The plan was to proceed down the north slope and attack the fire from its rear flank, using the Missouri River as an escape route. Unknown to the crew, the fire had jumped across the gulch to the north ridge eliminating the path to safety. Given the very dry conditions, the fire spread rapidly, up to 700 feet per minute. Seeing smoke ahead, Foreman Wagner Dodge ordered the team to reverse direction, but the fire quickly caught up to them. Dodge lit an intentional burn zone or "escape fire" and urged his men to take refuge. The team ignored Dodge as discipline shattered and it became every man for himself. Dodge survived as did two others who made it over the ridge to safety. The rest were overtaken by the fire and died.

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