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Insider's Look at Smokejumping

Insider's Look at Smokejumping

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Bruce L. Nelson w/introduction by

Smokejumpers are highly trained wildfire firefighters deployed to remote locations. They are parachuted in to to secure fires otherwise unreachable by local forces. By making use of high-altitude aircraft, smokejumpers are able to reach fires faster, cheaper, and better equipped than any road-bound vehicle.

Because smokejumping forces are limited to small teams, most of us don’t get a chance to see what these special forces battle. “Buck” Nelson, a 20-year smokejumping veteran, gives us an insider look into the smokejumping world…

Tools of the Trade

Usually smokejumpers reach fires while they are still small, using hand tools such as the shovel and pulaski. The pulaski is a single-bladed axe with a grub-hoe on the opposite side, and is, undoubtedly, the greatest fire handtool ever invented.

The closest smokejumper in picture 7 is swinging a pulaski. Since he’s cutting into the ground, he’s using the grub-hoe side of the tool. If he were cutting branches, small trees, or even a large root in the ground, he’d flip the tool around and cut with the axe blade.

Chainsaws are used (outside of wilderness areas) when needed. Trees, brush, and flammable debris are cleared along the edge of the fire to rob it of fuel and to stop the fire’s spread.

The photo (taken with a flash) is of smokejumpers cutting hotline at night on a fire in Idaho.

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