If a building catches on fire in your town, brave firefighters most likely drive a fire truck to the scene to fight the fire. But what about wilderness wildfires? Have you ever wondered how humongous wildfires in remote wilderness areas are put out?

Some forests and wilderness areas are far away from civilization. What happens if a fire starts in a forest and the nearest town is hundreds of miles away? What if there are no roads that firefighters could use to drive a fire truck to the scene?

These are some of the concerns that led to the invention of smokejumping over 70 years ago. Smokejumpers are wilderness firefighters who jump out of airplanes and parachute into remote areas to fight wildfires. Their job is considered one of the most dangerous in the world.

T.V. Pearson, a U.S. Forest Service Intermountain Regional Forester, first proposed the idea of smokejumping in 1934. He believed the best way to quickly attack remote fires was to fly firefighters to a position near the fire. Then they could parachute in and be ready to fight a fire without unnecessary hiking and difficult travel through rugged terrain.

Smokejumping experiments began in 1939 in Washington’s Methow Valley. Parachutists jumped into several different types of forests and rugged terrain to prove that it could be done.

The following year, permanent smokejumping operations were established in Winthrop, Washington, and Ninemile Camp, Montana. On July 12, 1940, Rufus Robinson and Earl Cooley made the first actual fire jump at Rock Pillar near Marten Creek in Idaho’s Nez Perce National Forest.

Today, well-trained smokejumpers are able to reach wildfires in extremely remote areas shortly after ignition. Reaching fires before they get too big enables smokejumpers to fight them while they’re still manageable — and before they become a danger to the public.

The United States isn’t the only country that uses smokejumpers. Smokejumpers are also used by the Russian Federation, Mongolia and Canada. In fact, the Russian Federation employs more smokejumpers (several thousand) than any other country.

After airplanes drop smokejumpers near a fire, firefighting supplies and food and water are then dropped by parachute into the same areas. Smokejumpers use these supplies to set up temporary camps they’ll live in for the next few days while they fight a wildfire.

Hundreds of highly-trained smokejumpers work out of U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management smokejumper bases in Alaska, Idaho, California, Montana, Washington and Oregon. They’re considered a national resource, though. Smokejumpers are often flown all around the country to help fight wildfires in remote areas.

From jumping out of airplanes to parachuting into dense forests to fighting wildfires, smokejumpers must be in excellent physical and mental condition. The best smokejumpers tend to be highly-motivated people in great shape who can think independently and react rapidly to situations that change quickly.

Due to their intense and specialized training, smokejumpers tend to maintain a safety record comparable to that of ground-based wilderness firefighters. Smokejumpers take extra precautions that make injuries infrequent and fatalities rare.

 

86 Join the Discussion

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    • We think smokejumpers are super brave, too, Kiki! Thanks for suggesting a WONDER about Wonderopolis…we think that’s a really neat idea! :-)

  1. Oh My Gosh!!!!!!!!:) That would be super scary!!!!!!!! I would hate doing it, but I guess out of a matter of time you get used to it. I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about 1 state, 1 city and all about it or just cars and where going on a road trip!!!!! (p.s. I go on this every weekday with my 5th grade class.

    • Good morning, Delanie! Thank you for sharing such an AWESOME comment with us today! We’re so happy to hear that you and your 5th grade classmates visit Wonderopolis together! We’re glad you guys like learning here! :-)

    • Thank you for letting us know the reasons why you thought today’s Wonder was so AWESOME, Hannah! We appreciate your comment! Happy 500th Wonder Day! :-)

  2. We thought smokejumpers had to do with volcanoes and lava or small fires. Now that we know all about them, we think it’s pretty cool! About half of our class would like to be a smokejumper because they’d like to jump out of airplanes. The other half does not because it is too scary! That’s what we think about smokejumpers.
    PS-We think the next wonder of the day might be about the tallest building in the world.

    • Happy Wednesday, Mrs. Morales’ second grade! We are so happy to read your comment today! Thank you all for visiting today’s Wonder and for WONDERing even more about what it must be like to be a smokejumper! We like your guess for tomorrow’s Wonder, too! :-)

    • That’s super awesome, KoolAidKid! We’re glad today’s Wonder of the Day® was something you have WONDERed about! We hope you learned lots of new things about smokejumpers! :-)

  3. Boy, am I glad that they invented smokejumpers!!! That was pretty cool. I don’t know what I would do without you, wonderopolis!!! This gives you so much information you could just report any time after you have read it. It is very, very, very interesting!!!

    • We think it is very, very, very COOL that you liked today’s Wonder of the Day®, Leslie! Thanks so much for visiting Wonderopolis today and for being a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

    • Hi, Daniel! Thanks for sharing that you have wildfires where you live. We bet there are some brave smokejumpers who live and work in Arizona, too! :-)

    • It would be a lot of fun, we agree, Shelby! We think it’s cool that you and Delanie are classmates! We hope you BOTH have a WONDERful day! :-)

  4. That is really scary to jump in and save fires, but I bet they get paid a lot of money. That is really dangerous. I would never want to do that unless someone is in there that I really love and care for them. :)

    • Did you know that some of those awesomely courageous smokejumpers are volunteers and don’t get paid at all? They just want to help people! We think that all smokejumpers deserve our respect and appreciation…they are saving lives and helping to put out wildfires! :-)

    • How neat, Briana! We think it would be a lot of fun to take a long road trip! We’ll have to visit Wonderopolis tomorrow to see if we need to buckle up for a WONDERful adventure! :-)

  5. There is no way I would ever take that job. I mean, so many things would go wrong because they could get caught in a tree when they are going down.

  6. Hunter was right for the wonder. Cool! WONDEROPOLIS’ 500TH DAY, WHOO HOO! I think tomorrow’s wonder is about road trips gone wrong. :( If you didn’t notice my name, I did this name because I did a project on Isaac Newton! :) :) :) :) :) :) :)!

    • We know EXACTLY who you are, Isaac Newton Super Fan! Your name starts with an “M” and you asked about Isaac Newton and Abraham Lincoln Wonders in your comment to us yesterday! Thanks for being such a big fan of Wonderopolis, too! :-)

    • That’s a GREAT question, Nolan! Smokejumpers have to go through LOTS of training before they ever make their first jump! They have to go through firefighter training AND skydiving/jumping training! There are many other important areas in which smokejumpers receive training, too. They survive their jumps by using special parachutes and knowing how and where to land. Thanks for WONDERing more about today’s Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • Hello, Trunks! Thanks so much for visiting Wonderopolis today! You can learn all about what a smokejumper is and what a smokejumper does by re-visiting today’s Wonder of the Day®! It full of AWESOME information! :-)

    • We think it’s GREAT that you recognize the hard work smokejumpers put in and the sacrifices they make to help fight fires and save lives, Wyatt! We’re super proud of you for that! :-)

  7. Wow, pretty amazing. I bet Rufus Robinson and Earl Cooley were probably frightened about it since it was their first time doing it. Why would they even come up with something like that because it is like super dangerous. Anything could go wrong they could fall directly in the fire, but I guess these people would be good at doing this. Are smoke jumpers involved with any burning building? I would jump out of a airplane to do the same because it sounds fun and dangerous at the same time. I like it. I love today’s wonder of the day. You should do a wonder about football one of these days. I cant wait until tomorrow’s wonder of the day.

  8. Dear Wonderopolis,

    Boy am I glad they invented smokejumping! Now people can live in the country, and not worry about wild fires as often! I learned how smokejumping was invented!! This was an awesome wonder of the day!!
    :)
    :P

    • Thanks for letting us know you thought today’s Wonder was AWESOME, Hannah! We are super glad you learned some new things! :-)

  9. We loved this wonder of the day because we think smokejumping would be really cool, but scary at the same time. We wonder if the smokejumpers wear special clothing that is different from a regular firefighter. We also wonder why a smokejumper would want to risk their lives to save a forest. We wonder if tomorrow’s wonder will be a road trip to find a smokejumper.

    • A roadtrip to find a smokejumper sounds really interesting, Mrs. Loganbill’s Reading Class! We’ll all have to visit Wonderopolis tomorrow to see what the next Wonder will be about, but we like your guess a LOT! Thanks for sharing the extra WONDERing you guys did about today’s smokejumper Wonder, too…we think that’s AWESOME! :-)

    • Those are both AWESOME questions about smokejumpers, Mr. P. and Mrs. Wilwert’s 1st graders! Although we don’t know the answers to your questions just yet, we think you guys ROCK for doing all the extra WONDERing you did after you explored today’s Wonder of the Day® together!

    • Thanks for sharing your personal connection to this Wonder of the Day®, Spencer! We think it ROCKS that your dad is a firefighter! :-)

  10. Hi Wonderopolis! We loved learning about smokejumpers. We learned that a smokejumper is a person that jumps out of an airplane to fight fires in the wilderness. That would be scary!

    • Thanks for sharing something you learned about smokejumpers today, Nicholas and Isaac! We appreciate you visiting this Wonder and leaving us a comment! :-)

  11. Dear Wonderoplis!! I loved this wonder. It was a little bit scary, but I still liked it. I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about a road trip.

    • That’s a super fabulous guess about tomorrow’s Wonder, Kelsey! We hope you’re right! Thanks for letting us know what you thought about today’s Wonder, too! :-)

    • Thanks so much for the congratulations on this being our 500th Wonder of the Day®, Spencer! We couldn’t have reached this milestone without the help and support of our AWESOME Wonder Friends like you! :-)

  12. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Cool wonder! I had no idea what a smokejumper was until now! I’m glad I learned something new. Happy 500th wondera-versary! I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about bugs.
    XOXOXOXOXO,
    Paige ;)

    • Thanks for wishing us a happy 500th Wonder, Paige! You’re a GREAT Wonder Friend and we’re glad you learned something new about smokejumpers today! We really like your word, “Wondera-versary!” :-)

  13. Wow! Being a smokejumper would be super scary. I can’t believe so many jobs involve risking your life. I’m truly amazed! P.S. Congrats on the 500th wonder!

    • It’s really exciting that this was our 500th Wonder, Allison! Thank you for your congratulations! We couldn’t have done it without the support of our AMAZING Wonder Friends like YOU! :-)

    • That’s OK, Joaquin! We’ll take any comment from a Wonder Friend…short or long! Thanks for visiting this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  14. Hi, Wonderopolis!
    I never knew there was such a thing! Are there lots of airplanes for smokejumpers? Who started this? One last question. How do you come up with so many good wonders?

    • Thanks for leaving us this awesome comment, Emaline! We’re glad you visited this Wonder of the Day®! We’re not sure how many planes might be used specifically for smokejumpers. That’s a GREAT question, though!

      Did you know that many of the ideas for Wonders of the Day come from Wonder Friends just like YOU? It’s true! You can tell us what you’re WONDERing about any time you like by leaving us a comment or by clicking on the “nominate” button at the top of every page in Wonderopolis.org and filling in the boxes! It’s really easy and LOTS of fun! :-)

    • That’s a great question, too, Emaline! We search high and low for the best information, video and activities to accompany each Wonder of the Day®. We want to make each Wonder the best it can be for all of our Wonder Friends! Thanks for asking…we hope you love learning in Wonderopolis as much as we do! :-)

  15. I think that it is cool that it is the 500th wonder of the day and I love the topic. I didn’t get to read everybody’s because there is a lot! Ha, ha!

    • There ARE a lot of comments for this Wonder of the Day®, Cassidy, and we think THAT ROCKS! We love hearing from our Wonder Friends (like you) and reading about all the awesome things they learn when they visit Wonderopolis! :-)

    • Hi, Blake! Sometimes firefighters on the ground can’t get to fires to help fight them on the ground. There may not be any roads, or the terrain may be too treacherous for vehicles. That is where the brave smokejumpers help! :-)

    • We sure appreciate smokejumpers, Amoolya! Thank you for reminding everyone to take a minute today to be thankful for ALL the brave folks (like firefighters, soldiers and police officers) who put themselves in harm’s way to protect us every day! :-)

  16. I think the job is pretty cool. I like the idea of jumping out of airplanes even though it is dangerous. And imagine how much money you can make off of doing that job!!!!!!!

  17. I never knew that smokejumpers were wilderness firefighters. The 2 vocab words from here that I learned is smokejumper and wilderness firefighters. Two facts are there are smoke jumpers and wilderness firefighters. Why are there smokejumpers?

    • Hi, Team McNeil 7! Smokejumpers are needed to help fight fires when traditional methods of transportation make it impossible to reach the fire. We think smokejumpers are SUPER, SUPER brave! :-)

    • Thanks for letting us know you liked the video for this Wonder of the Day®, Ricardo, and THANK YOU for stopping by Wonderopolis! :-)

  18. “Job is considered one of the most dangerous…” I’LL SAY!!! That is super dangerous. Jumping into a fire in the forest from a helicopter with maybe limited supplies. That is definitely not a job I’m doing.

    • We’re glad you learned something today, Tyler J! We think that it’s incredibly hard work to be a part of the smokejumper team, too! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is a smokejumper?
  • When did smokejumping begin?
  • Which countries use smokejumpers?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to jump out of a plane to fight wildfires? Well, maybe not! You need lots of training to be able to do that — not to mention quite a bit of courage!

There are some things you can do around your house, though, to make it safe and prevent fires. Check out the U.S. Fire Administration for Kids site to learn about home fire safety, smoke alarms and escaping from fire. You can even take a quiz to become a Jr. Fire Marshal!

You can also go online to check out the links below for fire safety information, as well as some fun games!

 

Still Wondering

In National Geographic Xpeditions’ Living Landscapes: Are You a Disaster? lesson, children compare the impact of different types of disasters on the lives of the people affected by them.

 

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