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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There was another two plaques with names and bronze portraits of two young men along with inscriptions of who they were.
“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.
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.
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?”
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
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
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.
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