Cramer Fire Firefighters Memorial: North Fork, Idaho

While exploring the Salmon, Idaho area, we had to prepare ourselves and our RV for possible immediate evacuation due to a wildland fire inching closer to our campground. Should we stay or should we leave? But there’s more to this story. It’s not so much about the fire evacuation possibility but the firefighters that battle the wildfires. And, the Cramer Fire Fighters Memorial that taught us so much.

Cramer Fire Firefighters Memorial: North Fork, Idaho

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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 we were staying at.

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

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’d notice them scarfing down sandwiches around their vehicles. Or we’d see them napping or resting 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.

That’s when we learned about those young and gruff, yellow-shirted, forest 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 firefighters are a special breed all of their own.

North Fork Idaho Heatseakers - Wildland Firefighters
Always On Liberty©
 

But when we learned the Comet Fire made national news; even our son, who lived in Colorado at the time, warned us ‘get the hell out of 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. As we learned, lightening-caused fires are a normalcy there. And, even single burning ember or firebrand can travel from 1/4 to a mile in the wind.

Each forest fire is violent and nonselective in taking her prisoners; including healthy trees, vegetation and wildlife. Some of those prisoners are also those yellow shirts with hard hats, boots and gloves who fight the raging wildfires with picks and shovels. Sadly, some don’t make it home. 

Adventure leads to teaching moments

Call it coincidence, but one of the days we were camped at Josephine’s RV Park and Pizza in North Fork, now called Waters Edge RV Park and Pizzaria, Dan went for a short motorcycle ride to clear his head. He also wanted to scope out some good forestry roads where I could hone my dirt bike skills.

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, we drank our coffees, dressed and rode our adventure motorcycles to that something. We turned right out of the campground in North Fork on Idaho RT 93 heading towards Salmon. Then, at River Road, we turned right at the post office. That road is pretty spectacular as it hugs close to the river for several miles. The views are amazing!

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

After turning in and parking our motorcycles, we dismounted and took off our helmets and jackets. We walked about a hundred yards to a freshly-painted white footbridge with another small brown marker just like the one that led us to the site.

Cramer Fire Firefighter Memorial - North Fork Idaho
Always On Liberty©

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we crossed the bridge that took us over a small creek, we entered a small freshly-mowed open field with a couple large informational placards along the edge of the field. They were about the Heli-Rappellers that work the area and about the forest fires.

Cramer Fire Firefighters Memorial Heli-Reppellers SignCramer Fire Firefighters Memorial - Recipe for a Forest Fire Sign

After reading them, 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 Sculpture - North Fork Idaho
Always On Liberty©

There were two life-size bronze sculptures of Heli-Rappeller firefighters; just like the ones on the informational placards. I slowly approached and gasped. I instantly got a lump in my throat. I walked even closer to read the plaque mounted on a rock at the end of the walkway that shined in the sunlight.

Cramer Fire Plaque - Firefighter Memorial Jeff Allen and Shane Heath
Always On Liberty©

And there was another with two separate plaques. 

Cramer Fire - North Fork Idaho - Firefighter Memorial Jeff Allen and Shane Heath Plaques
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These brave yellow-shirted 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” -Shane Heath, Indianola Helitack Crewmember

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

Cramer Fire Firefighter Memorial Sculptures - North Fork Idaho
Always On Liberty©

With precision, the sculptor captured every precise detail of each of the men; their helmets, their faces, every crease in their clothing, their gear, their gloves down to their boots.

Cramer Fire Firefighter Memorial Sculptures Head Close Up - North Fork Idaho
Always On Liberty©

There, on the ground at their feet were a few tattered American flags and small personal tokens; most likely left by their Heli-Rappeller brothers. Other mementos present; a patch, an unopened beer, a unit pin and a bunch of dried flowers. But what brought the tears out were very weathered, smoke-tinted yellow shirts. It appeared that they had been there for several winters.

I ask myself, “was it one of theirs?”

I couldn’t help but weep for them and their families. Tears fell silently down my cheeks because as former first responders ourselves, we appreciated 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 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-long visit, 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.

Strangely, I witnessed the most beautiful yet eerie sight. Flying right above the heads of the two firefighters’ sculptures were two beautiful Monarch butterflies flittering around; intertwining and rising in flight as if they were repelling back up into the heavens above. Seriously, this is way too cool to make up.

Learn their names

We now know their names; Jeff Allen and Shane Heath. They were sons. One was a brother and a boyfriend and the other was an amazing friend. One was about to graduate college while the other was making a career of wildland firefighting. They fought and lost their lives in the Cramer Fire. They were the good guys wearing yellow shirts. Jeff and Shane are (present tense) heroes. I will never forget their names nor the experience I had that day.

Lessons learned

Upon returning from our ride, I instantly researched their names to learn more about the fate of Jeff and Shane. But, nothing could prepare us for this:

Excerpt borrowed from the Fema 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.”

Read the Cramer Fire OSHA Briefing Paper Citation.

Visiting Firefighter Memorials

It’s important that we all take the time to visit these small firefighter memorials when we happen upon them. They are there for purpose; to share their stories of heroism. These memorials or monuments, big or small, are there to teach us. And, they are there to remind us of their ultimate sacrifice and selfless acts of bravery. They laid down their lives for wildlife and for us.

I will remember this place and those selfless men’s names for the rest of my life; Jeff Allen and Shane Heath. Every July 22nd, I will think of your mothers, fathers, and the heroic Yellow Shirts.

How to get to the Cramer Fire Firefighters Memorial

Cramer Fire Firefighter Memorial Location

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 Firefighters Memorial is also visible from Indian Creek Road, Forest Road 36, immediately west of the Ranger Station.

 LOCALE TIP: For those bicycle and motorcycle    riders and tent campers, there’s a great  campground in North Fork that we stayed that  has RV sites, tent sites as well as cabins to rent.

Check out other memorials we’ve visited:

National Fallen Firefighters Memorial – Emmittsburg, MD

9/11 Pentagon Memorial

National P.O.W. Memorial Museum and Andersonville National Historic Site

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

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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