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Continued: For most wildland firefighters, motivation goes way beyond adrenaline rush, travel, good pay

  • Article by: ALLEN G. BREED , AP National Writer
  • Last update: July 8, 2013 - 7:05 PM

Although the Granite Mountain deaths have cast a pall over the firefighting community, Hess said those in the field "can't carry that stuff" with them.

But firefighters do.

Each year, the U.S. Forest Service marks the anniversary of the Aug. 5, 1949, Mann Gulch fire, in which 13 firefighters died when they were trapped in a blowup on a mountainside in Montana's Helena National Forest. It was that mishap that Maclean wrote about.

Three men survived, including foreman Wagner Dodge, who lit an escape fire and tried in vain to get the crew to join him. Maclean recounted Dodge's exasperation at trying to explain the inexplicable to a bunch of people who couldn't possibly imagine what he'd experienced — a place "where no organ of the body had consciousness but the lungs."

"When asked by the Board of Review if he had explained to the men the danger they were in, (Dodge) looked at the Board in amazement, as if the Board had never been outside the city limits and wouldn't know sawdust if they saw it in a pile," Maclean wrote. "What could anybody hear? It roared from behind, below, and across, and the crew, inside it, was shut out from all but a small piece of the outside world."

Last week, as firefighters worked to contain the blaze that had killed their brothers, Jim Whittington, a veteran firefighter and member of the incident command team, invoked the memory of those losses of 64 years ago.

"One of the things that defines the entire wildland firefighting community is we don't forget," he said. "We make it a point of remembering things like Mann Gulch. ... And we will remember this one."

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