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Montana PBS to air historical smokejumper film ‘Higgins Ridge’

| January 26, 2023 12:00 AM

Smokejumpers who survived a “gobbler” of a wildfire in 1961 will recount their harrowing experience in an upcoming film on Montana PBS. “Higgins Ridge,” named for location of the fire in Idaho’s Selway Bitterroot Wilderness, will air Monday, Jan. 30, at 8 p.m.

In the film, 12 of the 20 smokejumpers who jumped onto Higgins Ridge on Aug. 4, 1961, share the story of how the fire surrounded them, forcing them to shelter in place. About three hours later, helicopter pilot Rod Snider managed to land on the ridge in smoke and wind and shuttle the smokejumpers to safety. Snider, now 92 years old, is featured in the documentary along with many of his original photos taken in 1961.

“This is a story that, for 60 years, never was shared beyond a few smokejumper circles,” producer Breanna McCabe said. “I didn’t believe it when I first heard it. But when a dozen men who were there all corroborate the same series of unbelievable events, I knew it was time for the public to hear it.”

A large portion of the interviews were collected in 2019 as part of the National Museum of Forest Service History’s Higgins Ridge Oral History Project.

The museum partnered with Montana PBS producer Breanna McCabe for technical assistance recording the interviews, and McCabe collected additional interviews and materials to weave the stories into one captivating hourlong film.

To view film details, visit higginsridge.org. Viewers can watch live on Jan. 30 at 8 p.m. on watch.montanapbs.org/livestream or from the Montana PBS Facebook page.