Smokejumper: A Memoir by One of America's Most Select Airborne Firefighters

Smokejumper: A Memoir by One of America's Most Select Airborne Firefighters

Jason A. Ramos, Julian Smith

Language: English

Pages: 272

ISBN: 0062319639

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


A rare inside look at the thrilling world of smokejumpers, the airborne firefighters who parachute into the most remote and rugged areas of the United States, confronting the growing threat of nature’s blazes.

Forest and wildland fires are growing larger, more numerous, and deadlier every year — record drought conditions, decades of forestry mismanagement, and the increasing encroachment of residential housing into the wilderness have combined to create a powder keg that threatens millions of acres and thousands of lives every year. One select group of men and women are part of America's front-line defense: smokejumpers. The smokejumper program operates through both the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Though they are tremendously skilled and only highly experienced and able wildland firefighters are accepted into the training program, being a smokejumper remains an art that can only be learned on the job. Forest fires often behave in unpredictable ways: spreading almost instantaneously, shooting downhill behind a stiff tailwind, or even flowing like a liquid. In this extraordinarily rare memoir by an active-duty jumper, Jason Ramos takes readers into his exhilarating and dangerous world, explores smokejumping’s remarkable history, and explains why their services are more essential than ever before.

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big. All those years of effort came down to the next hour and a half. The timer started and we took off. The straps dug into my shoulders as I tried to hit the perfect pace: fast enough to finish in time, slow enough not to flame out too soon. Aside from some aches in my leg, I actually felt pretty good as we plodded along. I crossed the finish line in a little over an hour. Not the fastest in the group, but not the slowest, either. One guy didn’t make the ninety-minute cutoff. Just like that,

broken his neck and one leg and had no memory of what happened. He wasn’t paralyzed, but he was left with nerve damage and double vision that ended his jump career. I protected my reserve carefully as I stepped to the doorway, went through the checklist with the spotter, and made my exit. The world outside the plane was bright and quiet. The sounds of the engines trailed away overhead, replaced by rushing air and the whump of the parachute opening. Then the only noise was the creak of harness

ground. If there were more than just us two, we could leave someone behind to retrieve the gear. But there wasn’t. We had no choice but to leave almost all our firefighting tools, food, water, and cold weather gear dangling in the branches and head off to find the fire. I had only one canteen of water on me, which was frozen. That and some Gatorade mix and a Snickers bar. Then it got worse. The forests of the Pacific Northwest have the densest biomass in the country—sometimes lots of huge

which was burning right in our backyard at NCSB. CHAPTER 17 IT WAS A DRY spring and a hot summer in 2014. At the beginning of July, we had ten straight days of temperatures above 93˚F at the base. On Monday, July 14, a dry lightning storm set off small fires across north-central Washington, concentrated in Okanogan and Chelan Counties. Four fires in the Methow Valley, east and south of Winthrop, were immediately reported by residents. They waited for fire crews to come put them out, but even

multiday assignments we might be based out of a fire camp for up to a few weeks with dozens or hundreds or even thousands of firefighters. Some camps had mess halls, medical tents—and if you got lucky, showers and a phone. A bad fire season in California could keep us busy for months. When it was really going off, we might get multiple missions in one day. Even when the skies were clear everywhere else, thunder cells would build over the Kern River and dump lightning into the dry vegetation.

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