Skip to site content
Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader

It’s Personal in Missoula, Montana

A raging wildfire burning everything in its wake would encourage me make a quick retreat. Smoke jumpers, however, train in depth to parachute right onto the edge of these massive fires, days away from any passable roads.

I visited one of the nine smoke jumper bases in the country at the Aerial Fire Depot and Smokejumper Center near Missoula, Montana.

“Smoke jumpers are so specialized that they have to make their own equipment,” said Jennifer, our guide. “They like to put pockets in special places and customize their gear. They’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t.”

It was difficult for me to imagine the courage involved in knowingly isolating yourself next to a raging fire. Jennifer explained to me that it called not only for bravery but also a terrific amount of strength.

I stood tugging on one of their typical pack-out bags — weighing about 80 pounds — with little success at even budging it. Yet these heroes carry packs weighing up to 115 pounds as they fight the fire and then hike on foot back to civilization.

The smoke jumpers attempt the seemingly impossible task of halting monster fires by cutting down a four-foot-wide gap in the forest around the fire. Inside the Ready Room, I pictured the flurry of activity that would occur when the smoke jumpers grabbed their equipment to stop the latest fire.

I felt thankful for the heroes brave enough to work as smoke jumpers because I felt sure I wouldn’t be up to the task anytime soon.