Mann Gulch fire in 1949


Wagner Dodge faced the cost of introducing counterintuitive thinking with his fire crew during the Mann Gulch fire in 1949.

His crew of fifteen smokejumpers was tasked with fighting a fire on a 97-degree day in high winds. The fire was so hot that they couldn’t get within one hundred feet of it. While trying to figure out where to start fighting the fire, it turned on them and quickly they were in emergency evacuation mode.

After several attempts to find an escape path, Wagner decided, on a counterintuitive strategy. He commanded his men to abandon their heavy gear. He started a circular fire. The fire burned bare a small patch of ground about hundred feet in diameter. He ordered his men into the middle of the circle.

In the fired frenzy of a life-and-death situation, most of his men ignored the order and chose to find their own escape routes: thirteen of them died trying to find their own way out. Wagner Dodge survived.

There is much to learn from this incident.

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About the author

Bennie Mostert
By Bennie Mostert