Mann Gulch fire–60 years ago

On August 5, 1949 on the Helena National Forest, a wildfire entrapped 15 smokejumpers and a fire guard in Mann Gulch. Before it was controlled the fire took the lives of 13 men and burned nearly 5,000 acres.

The fatalities:

  • Robert J. Bennett
  • Eldon E. Diettert
  • James O. Harrison
  • William J. Hellman
  • Philip R. McVey
  • David R. Navon
  • Leonard L. Piper
  • Stanley J. Reba
  • Marvin L. Sherman
  • Joseph B. Sylvia
  • Henry J. Thol, Jr.
  • Newton R. Thompson
  • Silas R. Thompson
The 13 men who were killed in the Mann Gulch fire. U. S. Forest Service photo.

The story of this fire was told by Norman Maclean in his book “Young Men and Fire”.

The Six Minutes for Safety overview of the fire is HERE.

As Wildfire Today reported earlier, on August 2-5, 2009 the Helena National Forest along with the National Smokejumpers Association will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Mann Gulch fire at the Meriwether picnic area through informal interpretive programs highlighting the Mann Gulch Fire, impacts the Mann Gulch tragedy has had on firefighting techniques and smokejumping and the associated equipment.

Three smokejumpers—John McKinnon, Carl Gidland and Roland Anderson—will at the Meriwether picnic area to speak to people about Mann Gulch, current and historic fire fighting techniques and much more.

Here is a photo of Mann Gulch taken in 2008, from The Travels of John and Breya.

A Smokejumper’s tragic jump [link no longer works] has an article about a smokejumper that you should read. Sara Brown, on her 88th jump, collided with another jumper while decending to a fire. Her chute collapsed, she fell from 100 feet, and shattered her right leg.

She has endured a lengthy recovery, but last week, she was honored with the Smokejumper Courage Award from the National Smokejumpers Association

Retired jumpers restore smokejumper base

Smokejumpers who used to work out of the Siskiyou Smokejumper Base south of Cave Junction, Oregon are returning this week to restore the parachute loft.

An excerpt from the Mail Tribune:

CAVE JUNCTION — Former smokejumpers whose lives once depended on parachutes inspected, repaired and packed at the former Siskiyou Smokejumper Base are returning to help restore the nation’s oldest smokejumper parachute loft.

The retired smokejumpers will be joined today by local volunteers in restoring the parachute loft at the former Siskiyou Smokejumper Base, according to Gary Buck, a retired smokejumper who made his first fire jump in 1966 from the base.

Located at the Illinois Valley Airport, half a dozen miles south of Cave Junction, the base was established in 1943.

The first smokejumper base was established in 1940 in Montana, a year after the first experimental jumps were made at Winthrop, Wash. Another base was built in McCall, Idaho, the same year as the Siskiyou base. The bases in Montana, Idaho and Washington were moved and the original buildings were destroyed, according to Buck.

The Siskiyou base is the last of the original smokejumper bases in American history still standing in its original location with its original buildings, he said.

The parachute loft, built in 1948, is the oldest of any smokejumper base in North America.

Buck is the president of the nonprofit Siskiyou Smokejumper Base Museum Project, a group whose mission is to establish a smokejumper museum at the base, which closed in 1981. Thanks to the group’s efforts, the base has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

About 20 former smokejumpers are expected to show up this week to help restore the old loft, said project secretary Roger Brandt. That includes Cave Junction residents Bob Nolan and Paul Block, two smokejumpers who helped build structures on the base in 1950, he said.

Thanks Kelly.

Redmond smoke jumpers train for fire season

The Bend, Oregon Bulletin has an interesting piece about the Redmond, Oregon smokejumpers getting ready for the fire season. Check out the whole article, but here is how it begins:

Get set to jump

Fire season is just around the corner, and the forecast is calling for a hot, dry summer. For the 50 smokejumpers who call the Redmond Air Center home, that means some practice is in order.

A dark speck fell out of the plane as it swooped 1500 feet over Glaze Meadow, near Black Butte.

The smokejumper fell for less than a second before her parachute streaked out behind her, catching the air and popping open.

With clear skies and crisp views of the Cascades as a backdrop, the smokejumper toggled strings to navigate the blue and white chute toward the target — a bright orange X laid out on the meadow. In a full jumpsuit and helmet, she touched down just several yards away, curling up and rolling to absorb the blow as the parachute settled to the ground.

“It felt good,” Jesse Haury, 25, of Bend, said moments after her first jump of the season. “It came back really fast.”

Haury and 49 other smokejumpers based at the Redmond Air Center began refresher training last week in preparation for the coming wildfire season, reviewing the skills they need to drop in on — and extinguish — remote blazes.

“We go through and simulate everything we would normally do in a jump,” said Bill Selby, the smokejumper program manager at the Redmond Air Center.

That includes first aid and CPR training, physical ability tests, firefighting skills, practice jumps, techniques for climbing trees to retrieve equipment, emergency procedures and more.

“You do things repetitively until they do it without even thinking about it,” Selby said.

With all the review that goes into smokejumping — first with an intensive rookie training, and then with annual refresher training — jumping out of planes becomes a part of a smokejumper’s muscle memory, said K.T. Scheer, 29, of Hood River, who is starting her second season.

“It’s pretty much all training,” she said, before heading off to carry a 45-pound pack for 3 miles within 45 minutes.

But first, on Wednesday morning, under near-perfect conditions, she took a practice jump onto Glaze Meadow.

“There’s always the first bit of jitters, but I think it went well,” she said.

Fictional movie: "Smokejumper"

We’ve been watching the HBO series “Entourage” this season, and the latest episode, number 63, titled “Pie”, features the lead character “Vince”, played by Adrian Grenier, acting in a movie called “Smokejumpers”.

In this latest episode, which is still being shown on HBO until the next one comes out Sunday at 10 p.m. ET, Vince begins shooting the movie. It is supposed to be a “big” blockbuster movie, and Sunday night they showed lots of flames and many, many explosions. The explosions were in wildland fuels and structures. OK, so this “movie” will not be realistic. It would not be the first movie about wildland fire to be over the top. I remind you about the 1988 movie “Firestorm” when Howie Long (former defensive end for the Oakland Raiders) playing smokejumper Jessie Graves saves ornithologist Jennifer caught in a forest fire.

The big flames and explosions in the wildland scenes were probably computer-generated. But in one of the scenes (see screen grab below) the cast is walking through a recently burned fire, which was out, but had a few propane props supplying some small flames here and there. This looked like a recent, real fire, and I wonder where it was filmed? Griffith Park in Los Angeles maybe? Wildfire Today covered several fires there in August.

The costumes (Nomex, radio harnesses, etc.) for the firefighters looked pretty realistic, although we’re not sure if they were carrying fire shelters….possibly not. Several actors were carrying fire axes like you might see on a structure truck…. something “smokejumpers” never carry.
The plot in the next episode will include more scenes about the filming of the “Smokejumpers” movie. A fictional movie within a fictional drama. Got it?

Here are some more screen grabs from an episode recap on HBO.

Vince, the lead actor in the series, is in the middle.