Smokejumpers start training amid shifting wildfire season

Posted at 5:56 PM, Apr 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-05 11:36:52-04

Sometimes when a wildfire sparks, there is no easy way to access the burn — that’s where smokejumpers come in.

Smokejumpers are able to parachute into remote locations and battle wildfire. Currently, Great Basin smokejumpers have a relatively standard schedule, working five days a week and eight hours a day.

“Once you go operation on fires, you know there's 16 hour days for up to two weeks," said Seth Alberts, Great Basin smokejumper and loft tech.

At the National Interagency Fire Center, returning smoke jumpers are in the middle of recalling their firefighting skills, with mandatory parachuting practice, tree climbing and even medical refreshers.

"The rookies will start mid-April and they'll go through several weeks of parachute and fire training getting ready to be ready to go in may for the season," said Alberts.

But even the rookies aren’t really new to the job.

"It’s not an entry level firefighter," said Alberts. "They're coming from engines and helitak crews and hotshot crews or any combination thereof, and they have mostly multiple years fire experience. So they're coming in they're already savvy firefighters were just teach them how to parachute into rough terrain essentially.”

But even with experience, fire experts must contend with changing climatic conditions.

"A lot of areas throughout the west have been experiencing drought, especially in some areas it's been compounding for several years now," said Jessica Gardetto, BLM fire chief of external affairs. "That coupled with expected high temperatures could mean an outlook for an above normal fire year."

In southwest Idaho, there’s been a steady increase of fire weather days over the past five decades with the combination of heat, drought and wind. It's unclear exactly what’s in store for this year, but experts are preparing for a difficult summer as the region continues to see a trend of extended wildfire seasons.