602 views • posted 07/24/2023 • updated 09/15/2023
The Blackwater Fire Memorial is a unique natural and historic experience that begins near and then accesses the site of the Blackwater wildfire fatality site.
Designated in 1979
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In 1937, the Blackwater Fire was started by a lightning strike in Shoshone National Forest, 35 miles west of Cody, Wyoming. Firefighters were containing the fire when a weather system caused it to expand uncontrollably, trapping 48 men, including 15 firefighters from the US Forest Service (USFS), Civilian Conservation Corps, and Wyoming Bureau of Public Roads. The fire destroyed 1,700 acres of old-growth forest dominated by Douglas fir trees on Clayton Mountain's west slopes. The firefighters used hand tools and pack animals, as weather forecasting and radio communication were poor.
The tragedy prompted the USFS to create better ways to combat fires, such as the smokejumper program and the Ten Standard Firefighting Orders. Two years later, a 71-foot-long stone monument was erected near Blackwater Creek and the North Fork of the Shoshone River, containing the names of the men who were killed or injured. Two smaller monuments were built by CCC crews, accessible by hiking or horseback.
The trail begins near the Blackwater recreation resort and roadside Firefighter Memorial structure on the North Fork of the Shoshone River. The trail then follows a creek-side location to the site of the fatalities. A unique bronze and rock memorial depicting the location of the fatalities is the most common destination. The history of the memorial structures is almost as interesting as the event they memorialize. Designed by USFS employees and built by CCC enrollees in tribute to their fallen comrades, the structures are fine examples of stone masonry and design of the CCC era.
The upper Memorial is centered on a huge bronze diorama of the terrain and fire tragedy. The five-foot-in-diameter, stone and bronze plaque was packed by livestock to the site - no small feat in itself. The trail continues on to a smaller stone location, marking where some men survived the fire, and continues on a steep climb to Clayton Mountain, the site of a USFS lookout tower that no longer exists. The vistas from Clayton Mountain are well worth the energy required to climb the last mile of the trail. The vista reveals the huge expanse of the Washakie and North Absaroka Wilderness areas which together total more than a million acres of some of the wildest, untamed country left in the lower 48 states.