Firefighters assigned to battle the Bootleg Fire in southwestern Oregon last week helped save a memorial at the site of the only casualties in the contiguous United States from direct enemy action during World War II.
The memorial, called the Mitchell Monument, is in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, where the Bootleg Fire began more than two weeks ago. The monument, which is made of stone and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003, commemorates the deaths of six people who were killed by a Japanese bomb more than 75 years ago.
The bomb was one of thousands that Japan attached to balloons, which were carried by wind currents over the Pacific Ocean to North America. They would occasionally explode in the timberlands of the Pacific Northwest, causing forest fires.
In May 1945, the Rev. Archie Mitchell, his pregnant wife, Elsie, and five children from his Sunday school planned to picnic at a spot in the forest about 10 miles northeast of Bly, Ore. The group reached the site, and the Rev. Mitchell let everyone out of the car to explore, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While her husband parked the car, Ms. Mitchell and the children discovered the bomb, which exploded, killing everyone except the Rev. Mitchell. The children ranged from 11 to 14 years old.
Last week, firefighters wrapped the memorial and a nearby “Shrapnel Tree,” which shows signs of the blast, in protective materials, Sarah Gracey, a firefighting operations spokeswoman told OregonLive.com.
“It’s one of the successes so far,” Ms. Gracey said.
A public information officer for the Oregon Department of Forestry told The Herald and News in Klamath Falls that the monument was no longer in the path of the fire and was at “much lower risk” of being damaged.