Many people would be surprised at the extent and complexity of the gear that smokejumpers must put on before they parachute into a wildfire.
From the Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service:
When the alarm sounds at the BLM Alaska Fire Service smokejumper base, these airborne firefighters spring into action, donning gear for a fire jump.
Typically, Alaska smokejumpers have two minutes to suit up and six minutes until wheels up. Airplanes, referred to as jump ships, that deliver smokejumpers to the airspace near a fire fly with closed doors, allowing Alaska smokejumpers to do their buddy checks in the airplane while en route.
In the Lower 48, because the airplanes fly with doors open due to the shorter distances to fires, these buddy checks for equipment are done on the ground, as seen in this video. This prolongs the time it takes to board the plane.
#Smokejumpers are highly qualified, safe and aggressive wildland firefighters who quickly and effectively respond to initial attack, extended attack and point protection missions, especially in rural Alaska.
This group of eight smokejumpers from the Lower 48 – seven from the U.S. Forest Service and one BLM smokejumper from Boise – were quickly headed to the Crater Creek Fire (#585), a new fire less than 10 miles northwest of Venetie.
Typically, once the jump ship gets to the area, it will circle above the fire at 1,500 feet. The spotter will drop a couple of streamers to gauge wind speed and direction over the fire, and adjust accordingly before the USFS smokejumpers using round parachutes launch out a side door.
The plane then climbs to 3,000 feet and the smokejumpers using the square Ram-Air parachutes go through a similar process before launching. All the while, smokejumpers will look out the windows to survey the terrain and fire behavior on the ground before they jump out the door, formulating their flight path to the ground.
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.
The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center has released a Facilitated Learning Analysis for an incident within an incident. Three of the seven smokejumpers that parachuted into the Miner Camp Peak Fire on July 29 east of Meadow, Utah were injured when landing. (Map) Two injuries were to the hand or wrist and the other was diagnosed at the scene as a broken collar bone or at least the potential for one.
The jumpers were evacuated by two helicopters, an air ambulance and a helicopter with hoist capabilities.
The jumpers received the resource order for the fire at 8:30 a.m. on July 29 while they were engaged in physical training. Since some of them “like to run trails in the surrounding area”, they did not get off the ground until 10:30. Due to the delayed departure, the distance they had to fly, and multiple issues related to fuel, the seven jumpers did not arrive on the ground at the fire until 5 p.m.
On September 11 smokejumpers attacked a wildfire in Channel Islands National Park off the southern California coast. The jumpers are calling it “historic”, since it is the first time for them to jump a fire in the Park.
The fire on Santa Cruz Island was reported that morning by a boater and the firefighters were over the fire by about 1 p.m. They departed from a temporary spike jumper base at Porterville, California, which can be established when there is increased initial attack activity in that part of the state.