Cramer Fire Firefighters Memorial – North Fork, Idaho

The Cramer Fire Firefighters Memorial is a must visit while you’re exploring and adventuring the Salmon-Challis Forest and the Salmon River in Idaho. This humble Fallen Firefighters memorial honors two helitack and heli-rappeller wildland firefighters, Jeff Allen and Shane Heath. Both firefighters lost their lives in the Cramer Fire in 2003.

Cramer Fire Firefighters Memorial

North Fork, Idaho

In the summer of 2018, while exploring the Salmon, Idaho area, we were preparing for possible immediate evacuation. A forest fire was inching closer to where we were camping at Water’s Edge RV Park in North Fork, Idaho.

We were deliberating back and forth, “should we stay or should we go?”

But there’s more to the story of our experience of camping so close to a forest fire. It’s not so much about the fire evacuation possibility but the firefighters that battle the wildfires.

Similar to meteorologists naming hurricanes, cyclones and tropical storms, FEMA names forest fires.

While we were camping in North Fork, Idaho, there was a particular forest fire named the Comet Fire that was burning dangerously close to the campground.

As we would drive to Salmon, Idaho to pick up provisions, we’d gaze silently at the smokey sheer curtain of the Comet Fire along the Salmon River

Forest Fire in Salmon Challis Forest near Salmon Idaho

The burning woods permeated the air for miles in the Salmon Challis National Forest along the Salmon River. Trucks and fire apparatus from different states filled side roads and small easements along  the road.

The men, Yellow Shirts, as we call them, were young and gruff firefighters with charcoal-stained faces.

We couldn’t help noticing them chowing down sandwiches or napping from utter exhaustion against tires, boulders and anything else they could rest upon. It was so surreal; like something we’d see in a movie.

It was then, we learned about those young and gruff, yellow-shirted, wildland firefighters, who day in and day out, save our forests, wildlife and all those who live there.

Also called Smoke Jumpers, Hotshots, Helitack Crews and Heli-Rappellers, these brave wildland firefighters are a special breed all their own.

North Fork Idaho Heatseakers - Wildland Firefighters - Always On Liberty
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But when we learned the Comet Fire made national news; even our son in Colorado firmly warned us to leave immediately.

Forest Fires: A Way of Life in the Forests and Mountains 

Wildfire firefighting is a way of life up for those who live and work in the woodlands and mountains. The forests are thick and storms prey upon them; waiting to strike their fiery bolts.

Lightening-caused fires are a normalcy in forests. A single burning ember or firebrand can travel from 1/4 to a mile in the wind and cause another wildland fire.

Each forest fire is violent and nonselective in taking her prisoners; including healthy trees, vegetation and wildlife.

Some of those prisoners are also brave men and women who put their lives on the line. They re those who wear yellow shirts with hard hats, boots and gloves who fight the raging wildfires with pick axes and shovels.

Sadly, some don’t make it home. 

A ride to remember

Call it coincidence, but one of the days we were camped at Waters Edge RV Park and Pizzaria, Dan went for a short ride to clear his head. He also wanted to scope out some good forestry roads where I could hone my dirt riding skills on my dual sport motorcycle.

Less than hour later, he came back home and told me, “there’s something I want to show you”. He wouldn’t tell me what it was but I envisioned it was something spectacular for him to want to share what he found.

However, since it was late in the day, we both decided to wait until the next day to see that something.

So, the next morning, after drinking our coffee and dressing, we rode our dual sport motorcycles to what we call, a ride to remember.

We turned right out of the campground in North Fork onto Idaho Rt 93 heading towards Salmon. Then, we turned right at the post office at River Road.

That road is pretty spectacular as it hugs close to the river for several miles. The views of the Salmon River are simply amazing; especially on that bright, clear day..

About 11 miles down River Road, there was a small brown sign marker on the right side of the road at the driveway of old Indianola Ranger Station. The sign read “Firefighter Memorial”

After turning in and parking our dual sports, we dismounted and took off our helmets and jackets.

We then, walked about a hundred yards to a freshly-painted white footbridge with another small brown marker just like the one that led us to this site.

Cramer Fire Firefighter Memorial Bridge - North Fork Idaho
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The small footbridge lead us over a small creek to a small freshly mowed field. We noticed a couple large informational placards along the edge of the field as we walked in. They told the story about the Heli-Rappellers that work the area and about the forest fires.

Cramer Fire Firefighters Memorial Heli-Reppellers Placard Sign - Always On Liberty
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Cramer Fire Firefighters Memorial - Recipe for a Forest Fire Placard - Always On Liberty
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After reading the plaques, we turned to the left along the woods line and saw an incredible display that will be etched in our minds forever.

Cramer Fire Firefighters Memorial HeliRepeller Sculptures - Indianola Ranger Station - North Fork Idaho - Always On Liberty
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There were two life-size bronze sculptures of Heli-Rappeller firefighters; just like the ones on the informational placards.

As I slowly approached, I instantly gasped and got a  lump in my throat walking closer to read the plaque mounted on a rock at the end of the walkway. It was a beautiful sunny day, so the plaque shimmered in the sunlight.

Cramer Fire Firefighter Memorial Plaque - In Memory of Jeff Allen and Shane Heath - Always On Liberty
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There was another two plaques with names and bronze portraits of two young men along with inscriptions of who they were. 

Cramer Fire Firefighter Memorial - North Fork Idaho - Jeff Allen and Shane Heath Memorial Plaques - Always On Liberty
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These brave yellow-shirt, forest firefighters were so young; Jeff Allen was 24 and Shane Heath was only 22 years old. Heath’s motto tugged at my heart.

“Do what you love, so love what you do”

After reading the bronze plaques, my misty eyes lifted to what was before me; two life-size bronze sculptures appeared to be repelling from the sky.

Cramer Fire Firefighter Memorial Sculptures - North Fork Idaho - Always On Liberty
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With precision, the sculptor captured every precise detail of each of the firefighters. From their helmets, each of their faces, every crease in their clothing, their gloves even down to their boots were perfectly replicated.

Cramer Fire Firefighter Memorial Sculptures Head Close Up - North Fork Idaho - Always On Liberty
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On the ground at their feet laid a few tattered American flags and small personal tokens. They were most likely left by their Heli-Rappeller brothers.

Other mementos include their unit patch, an unopened beer, a unit pin and a bunch of dried flowers. Seemingly, the momentos had been there for awhile.

But what brought the tears out were very weathered, smoke-tinted yellow shirts. They appeared that they had been there for several winters.

I ask myself, “were they theirs?”

Cramer Fire Firefighters Memorial - Charred Yellow Firefighter Shirt - Indianola Ranger Station - North Fork Idaho - Always On Liberty
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I couldn’t help but weep for them and their families. Tears fell silently down my cheeks. As former first responders ourselves, we appreciate and honor their ultimate sacrifice.

Wildland Firefighters Allen and Heath and all those like them are are our Country’s lifeblood. The saying goes, ‘good guys wear white hats’.

Well, these two Heli-Repellers are the ‘good guys who wear yellow shirts’.

One last glance at the Cramer Fire Firefighters Memorial

Cramer Fire Firefighters Memorial - Back View of HeliRepellers Sculptures - Indianola Ranger Station - North Fork Idaho - Always On Liberty
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After what seemed to be about an hour, it was time to head out. But, as we were heading back to that little white foot-bridge, something told me to turn around for one last look at the bronze sculptures.

Precisely at that moment, I saw the most beautiful sight. Flying right above the heads of the two Firefighters’ sculptures were two beautiful Monarch butterflies intertwining while rising in flight as if they were the Firefighters’ spirits repelling back up into the heavens above.

Seriously, this is way too cool to make up.

Researching about the Wildland Firefighters’ fate

We now know their names; Jeff Allen and Shane Heath.

They were sons. One was a brother and a boyfriend. The  other was an amazing friend. One was about to graduate college while the other was making a career of wildland firefighting.

They fought hard yet still lost their lives in the Cramer Fire. They were the good guys wearing the yellow shirts. Jeff and Shane will always be heroes to us. Because they go into harm’s way to battle blazes that threaten the environment.

I will never forget their names nor the experience I had that day.

Upon returning from our ride, I dove right into researching their names and learn more about the fate of Jeff and Shane.

But, nothing could prepare us for this. Here’s an excerpt from the FEMA’s website:

“Firefighters Allen and Heath rappelled off of a helicopter into a rugged part of the Salmon-Challis National Forest. The 2 were charged with establishing a helicopter landing zone to facilitate efforts to fight the Cramer fire.

The fire was started by a lightning strike. The firefighters were dropped at the site at 0943 hrs. They were contacted throughout the day by radio to assess their progress.

At approximately 1500 hrs, they made radio contact and requested that they be picked up. No helicopters were available at that time. A more urgent request for pickup was received at 1509 hrs.

At 1513 hrs, the firefighters reported fire below them and that the fire was advancing toward them.

A helicopter arrived at approximately 1524 hrs but was unable to land due to smoke conditions. Observers on other aircraft witnessed fire progression and extremely high flame fronts in the area of Firefighters Allen and Heath. Further attempts to contact the firefighters by radio were unsuccessful.

The bodies of both firefighters were found together by other firefighters later in the day. Both firefighters carried fire shelters but neither shelter was found fully deployed. The cause of death for both firefighters was listed as massive burns.”

You can read the Cramer Fire OSHA Briefing Paper Citation.

Why you should visit Firefighter Memorials

It’s important that we all take the time to visit these small firefighter memorials as we happen upon them.

They are there for purpose; to share their stories of heroism. These fireman memorials and monuments are there to teach us.

But more importantly, the likes of the Cramer Fire Fighters Memorial are there to remind us of their sacrifice and selfless acts of bravery. They laid down their lives for wildlife and for all of us.

I will remember this place and those firefighters’ names for the rest of my life; Jeff Allen and Shane Heath. And, every July 22nd, I will think of your mothers and fathers, and their heroic Yellow Shirt brothers and sisters.

How to get to the Cramer Fire Firefighters Memorial

Cramer Fire Firefighter Memorial Location on Topographic Map - Always On Liberty

The brown marker sign is near North Fork, Idaho, in Lemhi County. You can reach the Cramer Fire Firefighters Memorial from Salmon River Road (Route 30 at milepost 11), 11 miles west of Lewis and Clark Highway (U.S. 93), on the right when traveling west.

Look for the Ranger Station. Turn north on the Station driveway, parking is available west of the station. Click here for map.

The Cramer Fire Firefighters Memorial Marker is at or near the postal address: US Forest Service Indianola Ranger Station, North Fork ID 83466, United States of America. Click here for directions.

Visitors can park in the gravel lot and cross the footbridge over Indian Creek. The Cramer Firefighters Memorial is also visible from Indian Creek Road, Forest Road 36, immediately west of the Ranger Station.

✰ PRO TIP There’s tons of camping along the Salmon River! Check out RV Life’s RV Trip Wizard campground reviews that provides great suggestions for all types of camping.

VIDEO: Check out where we stayed and our Campground Review of Water’s Edge RV Park that sits right on the Salmon River in Idaho:

Other National Memorials worth visiting

National Fallen Firefighters Memorial – Emmittsburg, MD

9/11 Pentagon Memorial – Washington D.C.

National P.O.W. Memorial Museum and Andersonville National Historic Site – Andersonville, Georgia

Mount Rushmore National Memorial – South Dakota

National Battlefields and Memorials

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3 Replies to “Cramer Fire Firefighters Memorial – North Fork, Idaho”

  1. I want to thank you for this piece. I work for the Florida Forest Service, and am a friend of Phyllis Shumate. We are the folks that put out the wildfires in Florida during the dry winter months, and in other places in the US during the wetter summer months, where there are few fires here in South Florida. There is a memorial to all of the Forest Service Firefighters that have fallen in Florida at our training center just outside of Brooksville.

    Wildfire is a real concern in many parts of the country, and I’m glad to see you provide it some coverage on your wonderful BLOG.

    Thanks again, be safe out there,

    Tom in Okeechobee, FL

    1. Tom, thank you for following our blog. Our aim is to share the ‘little knowns’ of America. We believe even the smallest of towns and the people in them deserve the recognition and appreciation of what you all do. Thank you for your service! This is wonderful that you shared another place where we must visit when we explore Florida. When we get down there (eventually), we will have to look you up for a field trip. Don’t know if you knew this but prior to launching into our RV Lifestyle, Dan also was with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; working hand in hand with other government conservation agencies. So, we understand and appreciate our wildlands and woodlands. Keep doing what you’re doing. Please be safe out there!

  2. My daughter has been a rappeller on a Forest Service helitack crew since 2014. This of course is my worst nightmare. Thank you for taking the time to write about the Yellow shirts & the ones that gave their life, fighting the red monster. NIFC (National Interagency Fire Center) is located in Boise, Idaho. Next door is the Wildland Firefighters Foundation. They have memorials for the brave that have lost their lives, fighting wildland fires.

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