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As wildfires prove to be a growing threat in the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service is furthering its preventative and response measures.
The USDA’s Wildfire Crisis Strategy aims to safeguard communities by increasing fuel treatments, promoting community readiness and supporting post-fire recovery and restoration. An integral part of this plan is the Smokejumpers, an elite group of firefighters who bail out of planes into remote fires. The forest service has about 320 smokejumpers that work from seven bases, and The Associated Press was given access to the Missoula, Montana location.
“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,” said Smokejumper Madison Whittemore.
The risks involved with smokejumping are great, 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.
Bipartisan-supported funding has helped put USDA’s wildfire crisis plan into action by implementing forest health treatments on millions of acres across The United States.
Dan Hottle, of the Northern Region, said that the funding has been instrumental in making the plan work. “Funding through the bipartisan infrastructure law, the Inflation Reduction Act, those types of funding mechanisms 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,” said Hottle.
When the smokejumpers are not barreling out of planes during peak fire season, they are out cleaning up forests and doing prescription fire work.
This article was provided by The Associated Press.