At an isolated gulch about thirteen miles south of here on August 5, 1949, twelve smokejumpers and a Forest Service employee died when a routine fire unexpectedly turned deadly. The lightning-caused fire at Mann Gulch was spotted by a Forest Ranger about noon on August 15th. Within hours, fourteen of the Forest Service's crack smokejumpers were on the ground in the gulch and moving toward the 55 acre fire. Wind, combined with tinder dry grass and the steep terrain in the gulch, caused a rare and little understood phenomenon called a "blow up." The result was an inferno that quickly enveloped Mann Gulch. The fire jumped the mouth of the gulch and cut off escape to the Missouri River. The men sought the protection afforded by the ridge line to the north. The raging wall of flame moved faster than the men could climb the steep slope to safety. Realizing they could not outrun the holocaust, the crew's foreman set a back-fire to provide a makeshift shelter for the smokejumpers. Tragically, fear drove the men on and no one sought shelter with the foreman; the last words he recalled hearing before being engulfed by the flames were "To hell with this; I'm getting out of here!" Within minutes, eleven men lay dead on the hillside, killed by the super-heated air generated by the fire. Two other smokejumpers died the following day from severe burns.
Three men, including the foreman, survived the fire. Only the 1994 South Canyon Fire in Colorado was deadlier for the National Forest Service's elite smokejumpers.
This marker is dedicated to the thirteen men who died in the Mann Gulch Fire.