The Smokejumper’s Story: Bob Sallee on the Mann Gulch Fire
Sixty years ago this August, a crew of fifteen of the Forest Service’s elite airborne firefighters, the Smokejumpers, stepped into the sky above a remote forest fire in the Montana wilderness. Two hours after their jump, all but three of these men were dead or mortally burned.
Bob Sallee, then just seventeen, was one of the survivors. In a new radio interview for American Public Media’s The Story Sallee relates the harrowing tale of how he survived the blaze that raced up Mann Gulch. For years Sallee declined to talk about that day, until Norman Maclean—best known for authoring the classic story, A River Runs Through It—contacted Sallee in the course of research for Young Men and Fire.
Maclean, an English professor at the University of Chicago and a former wilderness firefighter, spent the final years of his life researching the story which, for him exemplified a moment when “life takes on the shape of art,” whose “remembered remnants… are largely what we come to mean by life and become almost all of what we remember of ourselves.”
Listen to the archived audio from Sallee’s interview and see our website for Maclean, including an excerpt of the decisive moment of Young Men and Fire.