Smokejumpers Guide to Forest Fire Fighting

A smokejumper's guide to forest fire fighting and preventing wildfires, including firefighting tools and knowing when to back off a wildfire.

| September/October 1987

A smokejumper's guide to forest fire fighting and preventing wildfires. 

"If there were dragons to slay and fair ladies to save, the same
sorts who show up to be smokejumpers would be the knights."
— Old-time smokejumper

Smokejumpers Guide to Forest Fire Fighting

My old crony wasn't too far off, because wildfire is a dragon! And smokejumpers are a unique bunch: Gallant, dashing, sometimes a bit grubby (but never tarnished), even sweat-soaked and blackened — they are, in a strange way, noble.

Smokejumpers — some 400 of them in the U.S., 2,660 in the Soviet Union and 50 in Canada — are our best wildfire firefighters, and I'm proud to be one of them. Because they parachute into remote areas, jumpers learn to depend on their wits to make up for a lack of fire trucks, pumpers and assorted gadgets. Common sense, experience, physical conditioning, mental flexibility and straight tactical knowledge make them effective.

I wish I could assure you that the smokejumpers will be around if a wildfire threatens your country home. But the plain truth is that — due to budget cuts, weird government policies or just the sheer proximity of a fire started by, say, your neighbor burning trash — we just might not make it in time. Therefore, one day you may have to face this beast without our help. Read on and let the smokejumpers tell you how to be ready for forest fire fighting.

The Dragon Is Vulnerable

A baby dragon needs all three legs of a heat, fuel and oxygen triangle to be born, grow, reproduce and spread. Remove any leg of this triangle, and the dragon will slow down and eventually die. Wildfire fighters often cool a fire (or its fuel) by pouring water on it; we sometimes starve a burn by clearing away fuel in its path; and at times we'll smother a minor blaze by beating it with damp gunnysacks.

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