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Higgins Ridge


Twenty elite smokejumpers dropped onto a remote mountain ridge to fight a wildfire on Aug. 4, 1961. Hours later, the fire blew up, and the men were trapped with nowhere to go. A skilled Helicopter pilot set out into the Idaho Backcountry to search for the men.


On Aug. 4, 1961, the U.S. Forest Service sent 20 of its most elite firefighters – smokejumpers – to parachute into the Idaho wilderness to put out a wildfire burning on a mountain ridge. What looked like a routine fire from the air became a different story on the ground, as wind fueled the blaze into a blowup. The smokejumpers, many in their first season on the job, pivoted from battling the fire to fighting for their lives as the fire surrounded them. While they instinctively wanted to run to safety, they remembered the fate of 13 firefighters who unsuccessfully tried to outrun a fire in Montana's Mann Gulch 12 years earlier. With that tragedy in mind, the 1961 smokejumpers decided to shelter in place. Skilled backcountry pilot Rod Snider set out to find them in a Bell helicopter, but flying conditions were treacherous due to the wind, and visibility was poor due to the smoke. Now in his 90s, Snider revisits the unimaginable saga seared into his memory, revealing a story about bravery and brotherhood.

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