Blackwater fire of 1937 remembered

Blackwater fire
Blackwater fire
Blackwater fire. USFS photo

On August 21, 1937 in Wyoming, a cold front caused a 90-degree wind shift that changed the direction of spread of the Blackwater fire, which surprised and trapped a large number of firefighters, killing 15 of them.

Blackwater fire vicinity map
USFS map

The Billings Gazette has an interesting article about the fire, featuring an interview with Dave Sisk, a former smokejumper and incident commander of one of the Rocky Mountain Region’s Type 2 Incident Management Teams. Dave elaborates on some of the issues faced by the firefighters in 1937, contrasting them with the capabilities of today’s firefighters. For example, communication on the fire consisted of handwritten notes carried by runners. In the article, Dave is quoted as saying:

These guys in 1937 knew how to fight fire. What they didn’t know was that a cold front was off to the west heading in this direction.

There is a memorial honoring the firefighters along Highway 14/16/20 east of Yellowstone National Park. The photo below was taken during the ceremony dedicating the new memorial.

Blackwater memorial ceremony
Blackwater Fire memorial ceremony. USFS photo

In July of 2005 I stopped at the memorial and there happened to be a small fire burning nearby at the time.

Blackwater Fire Memorial 2005
Blackwater Fire Memorial. July 25, 2005. Photo by Bill Gabbert

More information about the fire.


Thanks go out to Dick and Chris.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

One thought on “Blackwater fire of 1937 remembered”

  1. My father James T. Saban was one of the men lost in the Blackwater Fire in August of 1937. I happened to notice the loads of ccc boys and my father travel through Hyattville on their way from Meadowlark to the Blackwater fire.


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