John Maclean, on the South Canyon Fire

John N. Maclean, the author of Fire on the Mountain: The True Story of the South Canyon Fire, has written an article for the National Geographic website about the South Canyon Fire, but he also draws some comparisons between that fire and the Yarnell Hill Fire that occurred 19 years later. The two disasters killed a total of 33 firefighters.

The article is worth reading, especially if your memory of the details of the South Canyon Fire has faded. Below is a paragraph from the piece:

When the South Canyon Fire exploded into a blowup, a sudden burst of flame that sweeps all before it, there were 49 firefighters scattered across an area later known as Hell’s Gate Ridge, which extends like a mighty arm of Storm King Mountain. Mackey, the smoke jumper in charge, directed one group to safety. He then faced a daunting choice: Stay with the group headed for safety, or hike back into dense brush to check on a dozen firefighters who were digging and cutting a fireline, a trench about 18 inches wide, to try to contain the flames. He turned back to join the firefighters in the brush, an act of selflessness that became known in the wildland fire community as a “Don Mackey moment.”

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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.