With the massive Pacific Airshow in Huntington Beach this weekend, here’s a look at one of the most amazing jobs involving aviation there is in the West.
If fighting wildfires across the West weren’t hard enough, imagine parachuting into the wilderness, then hiking for miles to fight wildfires.
The alarm sounds, and within 15 minutes the smokejumpers have their heavy packs and are on the runway.
They might fly a couple hundred miles, then jump out of the plane, count to five and pull the ripcord. But after landing, the work gets harder, with a several-mile hike with a 100-pound pack to build a fire line.
Jumps are normally from 1,500 to 3,000 feet to the safest spot that is near the fire. On most fires, two to eight smokejumpers are dropped, but additional smokejumpers or further reinforcements will be called in if necessary.
Spotters on the plane designate a good landing area, and, after the smokejumpers are on the ground, drop cargo.
Smokejumping in the U.S. started as an experiment in 1939 and the first jumps were in 1940. The first operational fire jump occurred not far from Boise, Idaho, and in World War II the Army’s 101st Airborne followed their example.
Most missions are a couple days, but some can be for much longer.
You can find the requirements for the job here.
The most common firefighting tactic is constructing a direct fire line with chain saws, crosscut saws and hand tools. This creates a fuel break to stop the spread of the fire. After the jump team contains the fire, the crew cools down the remaining heat by stirring hot ash with mineral soil.
Most smokejumpers work from late spring through early fall.
When fire activity nationwide is low, smokejumpers participate in disaster relief, emergency management and act as advisers for other fire suppression work.
When to send the jumpers
In U.S. Forest Service writer Andrew Avitt’s article “Smokejumping: A Quick Commute,” he quotes Don Graham, operations manager with the California Smokejumpers who has had more than 500 jumps in the last 23 years. Graham said, “The whole idea of smokejumping is that if we’re successful, you don’t hear about our fires. You don’t hear about this operation. Wildfire is time-sensitive. Anytime there is an ignition, the sooner you put that ignition out, the better off we are.”
The 10-year average of jumps conducted by smokejumpers in California is 220.
The process from when a fire is first reported to when the first smokejumpers arrive at a fire is quick — anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour, depending on flight time from the base.
Sources: Andrew Avitt, USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region, U.S. Forest Service, Storymaps.arcgis.com, bucktrack.com, Buereau of Land Management
https://www.dailynews.com/2023/09/30/aviation-smokejumpers-have-one-of-the-hardest-jobs-there-is-for-the-forest-service/ Smokejumpers have one of the hardest jobs there is for the Forest Service – Daily News