Story and photos by Geoff Liesik, Alaska Fire Service, July 21, 2019
A record that stood for nearly 30 years fell this past week when the roster at the Alaska Smokejumper Base at Fort Wainwright was filled with the names of 206 jumpers at the same time.
That’s more than half of the roughly 400 smokejumpers on rosters nationwide this year. The previous record in Alaska was 202 jumpers on the roster at once. It was set during the 1990 fire season, according to Alaska Smokejumper Chief Bill Cramer.
Alaska has 63 smokejumpers and has added up 143 jumpers at one time from bases in the Lower 48 to respond to fires that continue to pop up across the state.
“We were outnumbered, but never outfought,” Cramer said.
Shane Orser with the Redmond Smokejumpers from Oregon said he’s been to Alaska at least six times in his 12 years as a jumper. The camaraderie at the base makes assignments to Alaska fun, he said. “All the guys are pretty welcoming up here,” Orser said.
The Alaska Smokejumper Base’s 10-year average for jumps between April and September is 495. As of July 20, the base had notched 829 jumps during 123 jump missions. It had also delivered more than 500,000 pounds of para-cargo as of July 20, Cramer said. The 10-year average for para-cargo delivery between April and September is 313,000 pounds.
For speed, payload and range, Cramer said it’s impossible to beat smokejumpers as a firefighting resource. “We travel faster, carry more and go farther than anyone else,” he said.
The BLM smokejumper program started in 1959 with the first fire jump happening near Flat, Alaska, on June 3. The Alaska Smokejumpers celebrated their 60th anniversary on June 14, 2019.