Mann Gulch, Montana

August 05, 2019


Photographer: Rod Benson 
Summary Author: Rod Benson

Sometimes shape matters. No place was this truer than it was in Mann Gulch, Montana, on a hot, windy afternoon 70 years ago today – the day that 13 men, including 12 smokejumpers and 1 other U.S. Forest Service employee died in a historic wildfire.

Mann Gulch is a beautiful 2-mile long by 0.5-mile wide (5 km by 1 km) V-shaped drainage that slopes into the Missouri River, about 20 miles (32 km) north of Helena, Montana. The men parachuted into the upper (northeastern) part of the gulch around 4 p.m. (local time) on August 5, 1949, and prepared to fight a fire located on the ridge near the opposite end of the gulch. Later that afternoon the crew made their way toward the river along the north slope of the gulch, unaware that the fire had jumped to their side of the drainage. The flames were hidden behind a bend in the gulch, and by the time they rounded that bend it was too late. Fanned by strong winds and fueled dry grass, the wall of flames raced uphill faster than the men could run.

The most famous account of Mann Gulch is in Norman Maclean’s book called “Young Men and Fire.” Maclean, who grew up in Montana, later became famous when his book “A River Runs Through It” was made into a movie in 1992. Photo taken on June 2, 2018.

Photo Details: Camera: Panasonic DMC-LX7; Software: iPhoto 9.6.1; Exposure Time: 0.0008s (1/1300); Aperture: ƒ/2.8; ISO equivalent: 80; Focal Length (35mm): 24.