Letters from the West

Last surviving smokejumper from the Mann Gulch fire dies

Robert Sallee, the last survivor of the Mann Gulch Fire smokejumpers died Monday the Associated Press reported.

Sallee, 82, was one of three survivors of the 1949 wildfire in Montana that was the subject of a movie, Red Skies of Montana and of the best book written on “Young Men and Fire,” by author Norman Maclean. 13 firefighters died when, in behavior that has become unfortunately quite familiar. The fire cut off their escape and raced up the hill.

Sallee survived by outrunning the fire and jumping into rocks at the top of the hill. The survival technique used by Sallee’s fire boss, Wag Dodge, burning out a small area and then jumping into the black led firefighters to design the fire shelters that are used to today to protect firefighters.

Unfortunately, fire bosses continued to place or allow firefighters to place themselves in the same position repeatedly, leading to 14 firefighter deaths at Storm King Mountain near Glenwood Colo. in 1994, two deaths at the Cramer Fire in the Salmon River canyon in 2003 and 19 near Yarnell, Ariz.

Last year. Firefighting attitudes have come a long way since Sallee’s time. Last year I heard a lot of fire managers say structures and houses weren’t worth the life of firefighter, a welcome shift from only a few years ago.

But fire is only going to get more dangerous as fire seasons become longer, fiercer and more widespread. If you want to help the families of the fallen give to the Boise-based Wildlife Firefighter Foundation.

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