Jun 8, 2015

Lookout on the Bighorn National Forest to be renamed for fallen firefighter

Nearly 80 years after his death in the Blackwater Fire west of Cody, a local firefighter is again being recognized for his sacrifice.

On the afternoon of June 20, Bighorn National Forest officials will formally rename the High Park Lookout — a tower once used to look for forest fires — as the James T. Saban Lookout.

This former fire lookout in the Bighorn National Forest is being named for James Saban, a firefighter from Shell who died while battling the Shoshone National Forest's 1937 Blackwater Fire. Photo courtesy Bighorn National Forest
Saban died in August 1937 while working to combat the Blackwater Fire in the Shoshone National Forest. A native of Shell, he was 36.

The Blackwater Fire started on Aug. 18, 1937, about 35 miles west of Cody. Three days later, a cold front brought erratic, gusty winds. The roughly 40 men being led by Ranger Urban Post were told to drop their heavy tools and run. The crew took refuge on a rocky outcrop, where Post told them to get down on the ground. Some refused and seven men died at the location, now known as Post Point.

Another eight men, including James Saban, were trapped and fatally injured in a draw a couple miles away.

By the end of that day, 15 firefighters had died and 38 were badly injured.

The victims were memorialized in geographic features and Forest Service sites renamed in their honor in the years immediately following the fatal blaze.

As one example, the Bighorn National Forest's Tyrell Ranger Station, located northeast of Ten Sleep, is named for fallen firefighter Paul Tyrrell. Tyrell helped save the lives of some of the panicked young men at Post Point — laying over them as a human shield and suffering fatal injuries in the process.

Firefighters working the Blackwater Fire in 1937. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service
Saban was not forgotten, with a ranger station in Ten Sleep named in his honor after the fire. However, the property went into private ownership as part of a 1972 land exchange. That could have been the end of it, but “private citizens and current and former Forest Service employees took up the cause to keep Mr. Saban’s memory instilled in the Bighorn’s cultural history,” according to a news release from forest officials.

This April, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell signed off on renaming the High Park Lookout as the James T. Saban Lookout.

The facility, located just south of U.S. Highway 16 and about 15 miles east of Ten Sleep, was built in the 1940s by the same Civilian Conservation Corps that Saban once served. The lookout was used for spotting forest fires until the 1970s, when the Forest Service replaced manned lookouts with aircraft.

“Renaming the High Park Lookout to the James T. Saban Lookout is a fitting tribute to honor Mr. Saban and his family,” said Powder River Ranger District Ranger Mark Booth. “What better place to name in his memory than a lookout tower high in the Bighorns overlooking the mountains Mr. Saban loved so well.”

Saban began his Forest Service career in 1922 in the Bighorn National Forest, passing a Forest Ranger examination in 1923 and going on to work in eight national forests throughout the Rocky Mountains.

Saban left behind his former wife, Alberta, and two young children: 5-year-old Jean and 7-year-old Jack. Alberta later married Lloyd Seaman, who adopted the children. Jean Seaman Groshart died in 2013, while Jack Seaman remains an active member of the Worland community.

The re-dedication ceremony for the James T. Lookout is set for 1 p.m. on June 20 at the intersection of Forest Service Road 429 (High Park Road) and Forest Service Road 433. It's about a half-mile south of U.S. Highway 16.

The public is welcome to attend the ceremony.

For more information about the ceremony or the Blackwater Fire, contact Susie Douglas at 307-674-2658 or the Powder River Ranger District office in Buffalo at 307-684-7806.

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