Smoke jumpers play a vital role when it comes to fighting wildland fires. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, smoke jumpers uniquely reach fire lines by parachuting from an aircraft 3,000 feet above the ground.
Smoke jumpers can reach wildfires fast before getting big. They can also reach fires quickly when they ignite in rugged, hard-to-reach terrain. Smoke jumpers can get a head start on fires in areas with no nearby trails or roads before crews hike or drive to the location.
These experienced wildland firefighters must have proficient knowledge of initial attack firefighting and work with various aircraft types. “Rookie” smoke jumpers must do a vigorous training program covering aircraft types and parachuting techniques. They must also gain expertise in tree cutting, prescribed burning, tree climbing, and more.
Smoke jumpers have a demanding job both physically and mentally. They must have vast firefighting knowledge and are heavily involved in hazardous fuel reductions and prescribed fire management. Montana has two USFS bases for smoke jumpers: one in West Yellowstone and one in Missoula.
Approximately 20 smoke jumpers are a part of the West Yellowstone smoke jumpers base. These smoke jumpers primarily respond to fires in Teton and Yellowstone National Park and nearby national forests, including Custer Gallatin, Shoshone, Targhee, Bridger-Teton, and Beaverhead-Deer Lodge. However, smoke jumpers are a national resource and can be dispatched anywhere in the US.
The Missoula smoke jumper base is next to the International Airport at the aerial fire depot. These smoke jumpers are dispatched to forest lands in Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They are commonly dispatched to fires in southwest New Mexico and north of Alaska in the early season.
Smoke jumpers are vital in fighting wildfires and can also be a dangerous job. If you know someone who is a smoke jumper or fighting wildland fires on the ground, be sure to thank them for their service.