Gateway Gazette

Smoke Jumpers

By Tracey Walshaw

A smokejumper is a wildland firefighter who parachutes into a remote area to combat wildfires.

West Yellowstone historic ranger station and home to the smokejumper museum
West Yellowstone historic ranger station and home to the smokejumper museum

During our visit Yellowstone National Park this year we learned about the Smoke Jumpers program in West Yellowstone, Montana. We found out that there are not only smokejumpers in the U.S. but in Europe as well. The U.S. has nine bases: Alaska, Boise (Idaho), California (based out of Redding), Grangeville (Idaho), McCall (Idaho), Missoula (Montana), North Cascades (Washington), Redmond (Oregon), West Yellowstone (Montana – at the West entrance to Yellowstone National Park), Gallatin National Forest (Bozeman, Montana – bordering Yellowstone to the Northwest).

We were asked if there were smoke jumpers in Alberta and I had no idea so I decided to look into it. I didn’t find any program specific to Alberta but BC still has an active program. This is a great article from Canadian Geographic magazine: http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/magazine/ja03/indepth/smokejumper.asp

BC smokejumpers
BC smokejumpers

Smokejumpers are most often deployed to fires that are extremely remote. The risks associated with this method of personnel deployment are mitigated by a training program that has developed over more than 70 years. Smokejumpers are capable of reaching a wildfire shortly after ignition when it is still relatively small and extinguishing the blaze before it becomes a problem to land managers and the public. When there is no significant fire activity, smokejumpers can also be used for outside fire suppression in work assignments such as forestry, disaster relief and emergency management. (Wikipedia)

Saskatchewan was home to Canada’s first unit of smoke jumpers. You can read more about it here: http://www.wdm.ca/artifact_articles/smokejumpers.html

Here is a personal perspective on the BC smoke jumpers: http://www.hemmingfire.com/news/fullstory.php/aid/1163/Smoke_jumpers!.html

Alberta may not have a smoke jumpers program but we do have a large number of brave wildfire crews. Between Canada and the U.S. we have a history of helping one another out when needed. It takes a special kind of person to risk their lives fighting fires. This week let’s remember our firefighters, both at home and in the forests!

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