August 5, 1999 marked the 50th Anniversary of one of the nation's most famous wildfires: Montana's Mann Gulch Fire. It was here north of Helena along the Missouri River's rugged, remote Gates of the Mountains' canyon that 13 firefighters lost their lives attacking what looked like a small, routine flare up. This fire's "blow up" and the crews' response have become part of the smokejumpers' training lexicon. Award-winning author Norman Maclean documented the Mann Gulch experience and controversy in his final book, "Young Men And Fire". With the increased public interest generated by Maclean's book and the upcoming anniversary, the U.S. Forest Service has developed an informational brochure on Mann Gulch. New memorial markers have been installed and the Forest Service and the Gates of the Mountains Boat Tour Company have offered guided hikes.
The 50th Anniversary observance, included smokejumpers descending on Mann Gulch to lay memorial wreaths at the granite markers. A new memorial plaque was placed at the Meriwether Picnic Area next to Mann Gulch along with temporary firefighting displays from the 1940s and 1990s.
Helena District Forester Dave Turner has led public hikes into Mann Gulch. He says the visitor experience is quite interesting: "It is a very emotional experience for a lot of people, even people who have no personal connection with Mann Gulch prior to visiting, just about everyone feels the need to touch the memorial markers." For more information contact the Helena Ranger District at (406) 449-5490