'We fly into the fire': Footage shows US smokejumpers parachuting into remote wildfires

An integral part of a plan to fight a growing threat of wildlife is the smokejumpers, an elite group of firefighters who jump out of planes into remote fires. Credit: USDA Forest Service

As wildfires continue to be a growing threat in the United States, an elite group of firefighters have taken matters into their own hands.

Smokejumpers, who are specially trained to parachute out of planes into remote fires, hope to "play a big role" in addressing the ongoing crisis.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service has around 320 smokejumpers, that work from seven bases.

The smokejumpers are an elite group of firefighters who jump out of planes into remote fires. Credit: AP/USDA Forest Service

Madison Whittemore, who is a smokejumper in Missoula, Montana said: “Smokejumping was created to be able to insert wildland firefighters into areas of the forest that are remote and either unable to be accessed by foot or vehicle or would be untimely to do so.

"So let's say there's lightning that comes through the area and there's remote wildfires we can get there quickly."

The USDA’s Wildfire Crisis Strategy aims to safeguard communities by increasing fuels treatments, promoting community readiness and supporting post-fire recovery and restoration.

But the risks involved with smokejumping are high, and it takes a skilled and specific kind of person to do the work.

The jumpers undergo physical tests during training, and they are not only efficient firefighters and parachuters, but also skilled at sewing and patching the chutes themselves.

The smokejumpers are skilled at sewing and patching the chutes themselves. Credit: AP/USDA Forest Service

The first thing the smokejumpers do when landing is look for a way out, said Steven Gerard, who also operates alongside Ms Whittemore in Montana.

"When we initially fly to the fire, we are looking at how we can safely get in," he said.

"But we're also already looking at potential ways for us to get out if the fire stays at the same footprint that it is, potentially we can walk that ridge out to a road that maybe we saw, or if there's a river down at the bottom.

"Can a jet boat get to us? Is the jump spot feasible to get a helicopter in to pick us up?"

When the smokejumpers are not barreling out of planes during peak fire season, they are out cleaning up forests and doing prescription fire work.

The first thing the firefighters do when landing is look for a way out, said Steven Gerard. Credit: AP/USDA Forest Service

Bipartisan supported funding has helped put USDA’s wildfire crisis plan into action by implementing forest health treatments to millions of acres across the US.

Dan Hottle, of the Northern Region, said that the funding has been instrumental in making the plan work.

“Funding through the bipartisan infrastructure law have been instrumental to us to be able to have the resources available to hire staff to have more cross-boundary work with our partners, state agencies, local agencies, all the way down to the homeowner to have that resource,” Mr Hottle added.

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