ON AUGUST 5, 1949, AT MANN Gulch, Montana, Wagner Dodge entered history by standing in the fire. A veteran smoke jumper, Dodge parachuted into Mann Gulch with his crew to put out a ground fire that had started from a bolt of lightning. When they boarded the C-47 military transport in Missoula, the fire was small. But, by 4:10 p.m., when they parachuted in and arrived near the gulch, the fire was out of control.

Dodge and his men set up across the gulch so that the Missouri River and a large stand of pines separated them from the fire. The terrain made it difficult to see the fire’s path, and when the group crested a ridge, they saw that the fire had crossed the gulch and was only a few hundred yards away. Dodge yelled to his men to retreat, ...

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