Smokejumper: A Memoir by One of America's Most Select Airborne Firefighters - Jason A. Ramos (2015)
The aftermath of the “Big Blowup”—Coeur d’Alene National Forest (Idaho), August 1910. This historic fire burned three million acres, took eighty-five lives, and forever changed America’s attitude to forest fires—and wildland firefighting. USFS
Fighting fire in the early days. Then as now, they were lucky if they had a water source nearby. USFS
On the fire line, working the fire’s edge. The goal was the same back then: take the fuel away from the fire, leaving it nothing to consume. KD Swann
Fred Patten, Recreation Guard at Meriwether Campground, inspects the remains of a flashlight used in the Mann Gulch fire of 1949. The cross next to him marks the spot where Leonard J. Piper, a smokejumper, lost his life in the fire. 1969, Helena National Forest. Philip G. Schlamp
Johnson Flying Service with jumpers preparing for a mission. Phil Stanley
Pioneer smokejumper Francis Lufkin in 1939. This was Lufkin’s first plane ride and first jump, in the Chelan (now Okanogan-Wenatchee) National Forest, Washington. HC King
Smokejumper soon after leaving the plane with the pilot parachute completely distended and the thirty-five-foot canopy unfolding. June 1940, Lolo National Forest, Montana. K.D. Swann
Johnson checking Lufkin’s jumpsuit. Today we use a remarkably similar jumpsuit, with careful attention to detail, high-end textiles, and padding. These guys were way ahead of their time. USFS
Entrance sign at the “Okanogan aerial project,” now known as North Cascades Smokejumper Base. Okanogan National Forest, Washington, July 1957. Donald B. Stickney
Lufkin holding one of the tree branches broken off by Chet Derry, who mistook a moss-covered larch for a pine tree. His parachute collapsed but opened again and set him on the ground easily.
Some of the protective gear we still wear today. Virgil “Bus” Derry in a jumpsuit that then included a back brace and leggings. In front of Stinson Reliant SR-10, 1939, Intercity Airport, Winthrop, Washington. H.C. King
Ground training for smokejumpers. Payette National Forest, Idaho, July 10, 1952. Lowell J. Farmer
Smokejumping squadleader Bill Carver demonstrating to trainees the inverted “V” trough, for strengthening ankles. Lolo National Forest, 1952. WE Steuerwald
Men on the conditioning obstacle course with stockades (the “torture rack”), performing leg, back, and abdominal exercises. Lolo National Forest, 1952. WE Steuerwald
The let-down simulator. This unit teaches trainees how to safely rappel out of a tree or any other object they’ve managed to land in. You can see the NCSB loft in the background, still the same building that we use today. USFS
New trainees practicing on the “mock-uprisers” designed to teach the “planing” maneuver and strengthen arm and shoulder muscles, 1952, Lolo National Forest. WE Steuerwald
Group of jumpers with Frank Derry in the center, about to take off in a Ford Trimotor plane at Missoula Airport, Missoula, Montana, for practice jumps with static line. KD Swann
Early rations and gear. KD Swann
The parachute loft, where we make and repair all our gear. This is the heart of the operation. Phil Stanley
Smokejumpers become very proficient with sewing machines. Phil Stanley
Fred Brauer and Jack Nash in the assembly room at the smokejumpers loft. Missoula, Montana, 1951. WE Steuerwald
Smokejumper equipment on display at the Society of American Foresters meeting, Farmington Flats, Utah, 1946. Paul S. Bieler
Outside the NCSB loft, all geared up and ready to go. USFS
Jump partners fully geared up with all the tools needed for fire suppression, including pulaski and crosscut saw, circa 1945. Phil Stanley
Double stick: two jumpers in the door getting ready to head to work. Note the spotter on the floor next to the door. Lolo National Forest. Maurice Vogel
Smokejumpers parachuting into Glacier National Park, Montana. Martin Onishuk
Smokejumpers descending. USFS
Radioing in after landing. Phil Stanley
Parachute jumper Dick Tuttle near the top of a one-hundred-foot lodge pole pine snag, waiting for assistance from then-Forest Guard Francis Lufkin. David P. Goodwin
Some of the early parachutes were made out of silk. In the rear you can see the Derry brothers’ steering slots that made the Derry slotted parachute more controllable for tight jump spots. USFS
My “office view” from the ridgeline fire in the Okanogan/Wenatchee National Forest, North Cascades. To a jumper, these mountains are always beautiful—and sometimes pure hell, too.
If these wings could talk. This impressive artwork watches over the daily operations at NCSB. It is made out of two pulaskis and dozens of jumpers’ gloves collected throughout the years.
Examining a reserve parachute in the NCSB loft. As a jumper you’re always checking and re-checking your gear to make sure everything is in top condition and ready to go.
Packed chutes ready for service in the NCSB loft, with retired parachute harnesses hanging above. There are years of history on these walls.
Jump 9 on standby at NCSB with a Redmond jump ship in the background. The smoke column in the distance is from one of the lightning-sparked fires that would eventually join with others and grow into the Carlton Complex of 2014.
Some of the specialized gear I jump with. The gear each jumper carries can vary depending on training and expertise.
Suited up at sunset at NCSB, checking out some new gear for the next mission.
A nighttime lightning strike: smokejumpers have a saying, “We jump at dawn,” that pertains to moments like this.
Jumpers away! The Casa 212 drops a load of jumpers over the Methow Valley near NCSB. Rick Stewart
That’s me coming in on final approach to the jump spot. Rick Stewart
We work to stay proficient, typically jumping every seven to fourteen days depending on fire activity. Rick Stewart
Down safe and ready to work. Our jumpsuit is padded from head to toe and can sometimes weigh more than seventy-five pounds with gear. Rick Stewart
Bring it in, hump it out. Pack-outs are one of the hardest parts of jumping. This was an interesting one at Crater Lake, Oregon—turned out to be 154.8 pounds.
Fire 242: this 2013 ridgeline fire in the North Cascades is starting to wake up and make a push down canyon.
A 2012 late season fire in Washington. We pulled out the next day when it grew too large. Mother Nature put this one out.
In the middle of a six-day mission on steep and rugged terrain near Leavenworth, Washington. On this one I used high-end solar gear so we didn’t have to depend on helicopter support for batteries.
The view from a plane coming on station over an established fire. Large fires can create their own weather, including rain, hail, high winds, and lightning. Doug Houston
A lightning-caused fire in Washington State in late September 2012. This was taken during our morning briefing on a road below, where I was going through the day’s work assignments as task force leader trainee.
My first experience with the sheer power of a large fire: the view from the roof of our house in Wildomar, California, in 1987.
The Wildomar fire was practically in my backyard. Southern California is famous for its extreme fire behavior.
Tanker dropping fire retardant in Washington State. Bill Moody
Sometimes my house travels with me. Here on a taskforce assignment in Washington, the Sportsmobile makes a great response and command vehicle—not to mention a home.
One of the reasons we do what we do: protecting natural resources like this giant cedar in Washington State.
Ceviche time in Baja California. Keeping in shape throughout the year is key, so in the off-season I often freedive up to fours hours a day, eat healthy, and take plenty of naps.
Patience pays off: a good day with good wind and no other windsurfers to worry about. Baja California.
Catch of the day: the bounty from the ocean with respect to our harvest. Baja California.
Guests are welcome at NCSB, the birthplace of smokejumping in 1939. Come by for a tour of the base—the best time is in the summer—and we’ll start at this historic sign.