“The smokejumpers ranged far and wide across the northland. And they walked into as many fires as they parachuted into.”
The concept of delivering personnel to wildfire by parachute grew out of the need to reduce the length of time required to adequately mobilize resources to wildfire, thereby reducing the cost associated with fighting wildfire. The United States Forest Service considered smoke jumping as early as the mid 1930’s. Foresters in the American northwest had begun successfully free-dropping equipment and food to ground crews from fixed-wing aircraft. Progressive thinking foresters soon envisioned dropping highly trained parachutists from these fast moving, long-range planes.
Smokejumping proved so successful that soon all areas of the continental United States employed smokejumpers as their primary initial-attack resource. The quick response time, large payload, low cost and impressive safety record of fixed wing aircraft has ensured that smokejumping remains the dominant initial attack resource in the United States.
Canadian firefighting authorities were also confronted with limited funding, large distances and very fast moving fires. In 1949, Canada’s first smokejumping base was founded in La Ronge, Saskatchewan. CBC profiles them in the 20/20 episode “Diary of a Smokejumper.” The base dispanded in 1967.
To watch the mini documentary, check out the link below:
Between 1967 and the early 90’s, smokejumping programs in Canada were very intermittent. Smokejumping was introduced to the North West Territories in 1974 by contract crews where it operated for only three years. In 1984, a smokejumping base was created in the Yukon where it operated for 12 years.
In British Columbia, the Parattack program has been in operation since 1998. The program began in Smithers and moved to the Fort St. John in 2000. The North Peace Smokejumping program has expanded over the past five years and now includes three smokejumping crews based out of Mackenzie, BC.
For a brief summary how Parattack evolved operationally, please visit this video posted by the 2016 Wildland Fire Conference: