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Archive for the ‘smokejumping’ Category

At the beginning of each fire season, as jumpers come drifting in from their winter lives as surfers, fisherman, international travelers, slum lords, hog splitters (seriously, one of my buddies works at a meat packing plant, sawing pigs in half), and mostly ski bums, they have to be “refreshed”.  Refresher training consists of  two weeks of remembering how to do our job.  One week is dedicated to reviewing parachuting, and the other to reviewing firefighting.  With refresher training comes a mix of emotions.  Scanning the crowd on that first morning meeting of the week and you will see faces that express sadness that winter vacation is over, joy that friends are united again, excitement that a new fire season is about to begin,  and frustration knowing the next two weeks will be filled with critique and scrutiny of your parachuting performance.  Overall it’s just about knocking the dust off and getting your head back into the game.

Here are some photos from our parachuting refresher:

Red, White, and Blue chutes and Orange chute are DC-7’s made by Airborne Systems: http://www.airborne-sys.com/

Blue and Yellow chutes are CR-360’s made by Performance Design: http://www.performancedesigns.com/

Two DC-7 parachutes

The Legend coming in

CR-360 parachutes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good landing

Ladies, his name is Evan Adsit

The Twin Otter kicking cargo

Cargo coming down on a "bucket" chute

Traditional cargo chute

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Finally!  A fire call!  The call came in about 4pm on Thursday.  For a few days it had been pretty quiet around here and there wasn’t any lightning forecast for the day so it came as a surprise.   The fire was near Price, UT.  As it turned out it was a lightning strike from several days prior, it just had been smoldering around until some wind came up and started to fan the flames.  This fire was pretty straight forward… we jumped it, put line around it and mopped up until late that night.  The next day we mopped up some more with the help of a few helicopter drops, and had the thing cold by 4pm, 24hrs after we got the call, now that’s efficient firefighting.  That’s the reason that we can justify our program, our job.  Had they taken extra time to have crews of people walk up to the fire from the nearest road, the fire could have been too large to contain right away and may have burned down into the community below.  The most critical thing is getting to the fire as quickly as possible and attack it while it is as small as possible.  When the fire was out we got a helicopter ride to the Price airport and waited for our plane to come pick us up and fly us back to Spanish Fork.  Easy as that.

flying to the fire

Perfect fire!  Small but not too small, good jump spot and beautiful scenery!

Perfect fire! Small but not too small, good jump spot and beautiful scenery!

Once we hit the ground we were very busy.  We had to assemble our tools and hustle to cut saw line, dig fire line and try to contain the fire quickly because the wind was blowing and causing the fire to really take off.  After several hours we were able to get the flames knocked down and the fire contained but unfortunately in the chaos I didn’t get the opportunity to take any photos.  So, the ones I got were from the next day during the “mop-up” phase.  They aren’t as glorious as pics with fire in them but it gives you an idea of what it was like…

The fire slowed its progress once it hit the aspen

The fire slowed it's progress once it hit the aspen

It ended being about 2.5 acres

It ended being about 2.5 acres

Helicopter bucket drop- helps out a lot getting 50 gallons at a time

Helicopter bucket drop- helps out a lot getting 50 gallons at a time

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We did a practice jump yesterday up Spanish Fork canyon.  Beautiful day, beautiful jump…. it was a good reminder of why I do this job!

The load

The load

enjoying the view

enjoying the view

coming in on final approach

coming in on final approach

stacking them right in

stacking them right in

WOMBAT!

WOMBAT!

Dax

Dax

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First fire of ’09

Perfect timing!  Within an hour of being on the list and available to jump fires we were loading up for a “pre-position” in Palmer, a few hundred miles south of Fairbanks- near Anchorage.  Talk about a sweet flight… the Alaska Range is one rugged place.  Denali (the tallest mountain in North America) is amazing from the air!

Alaska Range

Alaska Range

Palmer was beautiful but we were only there long enough to eat lunch.  The trendy little coffee cafe sold the last turkey and swiss to the customer directly in front of me so I had to have tuna.  Bummer.  They did mess up an order somewhere in the lunch rush though, so I cashed in on some free soup which was delicious.  It’s not the first time that questioning in a judgmental tone “you’re just going to throw that away?!” has gotten me some good loot.

Alaskan scenery

Alaskan scenery

We got the fire call in the early afternoon.  There were several fires found during a detection flight that had just flown.  We were to fly four fires and determine which one we would take action on.  The first fire was only about 30 acres and was flanked on one side by a river so we flew on to find something that posed a little more of a challenge.  Well, as it turned out, the next several were what we call “gobblers”- as in they are gobbling up everything in their path at a rapid rate.  In most cases they are catchable with enough resources but we had to consider what we could effectively do with eight smokejumpers and a few loads of retardant.  Each of those fires were beyond unstoppable with the few guys that we had; we would have been just as effective flying over it and peeing out the door on them as we would have been jumping.

Two headed monster!

Two headed monster!

going big

gobble gobble

nasty

nasty

So, back to the first fire.  In the time that it took us to fly to the other fires, get fuel, and come back, our little fire had grown to about 150 acres.  Although it was much larger than we hoped, we were optimistic that we could do something to at least slow it down.  We had try anyway- there was a village a few miles down the river.  The jump itself was utterly amazing, maybe the best of my career.  I was the fourth person in my four person stick (meaning four people jump just a few seconds apart from each other).  As fourth man my job is to simply hang as high and as long as possible as the others try to reach the ground in an orderly fashion.  It was during that few minutes that I decided that the single best way to experience the breathtaking beauty of the Alaska backcountry is while the sun is low in the sky and the calm wind makes it completely silent under the canopy, sailing two thousand feet above the ground.  I found myself yelling at the top of my lungs “THIS IS AMAZING!  I LOVE MY JOB!!!”

Our fire

Our fire

the jump

the jump

cargo

cargo

view from camp

view from camp

the standby shack in McGrath- spent a week there

the standby shack in McGrath- spent a week there

they had parking for me!

they had parking for me!

We beat flames until 3 am before the two squads, taking opposite sides of the fire, tied into each other in triumph- we stopped it at 230 acres.  We decided that it would be ok to leave for the night and get some much needed rest.  The next three days were spent mopping up hotspots and making sure that the perimiter was secure.  We got a helicopter ride to Red Devil (seriously the name of the village) where a plane met up with us and flew us the rest of the way to McGrath.  We spent a week in the 200 person, two bar, one store village waiting for another fire to jump but the weather was cool and didn’t really produce any more starts.  We eventually flew back to Fairbanks where I’ve been for three days mending parachutes, rigging parachutes, and when I have time, weeding in the garden.

Flying home to Fairbanks

Flying home to Fairbanks

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“HELMETS, GLOVES AND SEATBELTS YOU SON’S OF BITCHES!!!”  Marty the spotter boomed as we were taxiing down the runway, just about to take off for our last jump.  I was still thinking about what just happened before getting on the plane…

About 40 of the Alaska jumpers found out that we were about to have our last jump and so they gathered around to “cheer” us on during our suit-up competition which preceded the jump.  After the alarm went off (simulating a fire call), the idea was to be the first one to be suited up and on the way out to the plane- us jumpers pride ourselves on how quickly we can get ready.  Well, I had a zipper stick on me for a moment and was dead last, so the cheering mob was cheering extra loud for me and I went running- well as close to running you can do wearing 70 pounds of constrictive jump suit, parachutes and gear- to catch up with the other guys on the load.  Well about halfway through my run/limp/waddle to the plane the crowd really erupted into cheering and laughter and I heard someone yelling “hey stop!”  I turned around to notice that I was trailing about 10 feet of my let down rope out of my leg pocket… the ultimate shit show.

Anyway, the jump went pretty darn well after that.  I landed in the tight spot surrounded in trees, and without injury.  Holly cow, I actaully made it.  Celebration!  I hit the list the next day- available to jump fires on the ram-air chute.

coming in for landing

coming in for landing

My New Man Ram Air grad. class

My New Man Ram Air grad. class

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So, we had a day off yesterday (Sunday) and went to Chena hot springs.  It took nearly an hour to get there but was well worth it.  Soaking in the hot water, relaxing and enjoying the scenery was a nice contrast to the rigorous long days of training filled with stress, anxiety and fear (fear of being “washed” from the training program mostly… the actual jumping is mostly just adrenalin filled fun with a touch of fear mixed in for good measure).  The spots have been getting tighter and we have begun jumping two people per “stick”, which means someone else leaves the plane with you at virtually the same time so you have to contend with them in the same airspace as you.  It makes things much more complicated once you not only have to worry about the ground coming at you and having to find a good landing place in the midst of all the trees but you also have to make sure that you don’t have a mid-air collision with your buddy.  The height in which a mid-air occurs usually determines whether it is career ending or life ending… usually one or the other.  Other than that the only thing excited going on around the jump base is that it is “Mustache May!”

Oh yeah, trucker stash baby!

Oh yeah, trucker stash baby!

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