Elite smokejumpers train locally

A firefighter with the Great Basin Smokejumpers comes in for a landing Thursday morning during a training exercise near Rustler’s Loop in Loma.  The 10-member smokejumping team, stationed in Grand Junction, is called to fight hard-to-access fires across Colorado and Utah.

During fire season, Grand Junction is an ideal spot to base a team of elite firefighters that can be ready at a moment’s notice.

A team of 12 Great Basin Smokejumpers from Boise, Idaho, are stationed at Grand Junction Regional Airport. They spend their days training and waiting to be deployed to the next hard-to-access wildfire in Colorado or Utah.

“We’re Colorado’s resource. We can be called anywhere in the state, or adjoining states can request us if they are low on resources or there’s a remote fire,” explained firefighter Curran Foley.

As part of their training, Foley and his crew are required to complete practice parachute jumps from planes every two weeks.

On Thursday, they jumped from above the Rustler’s Loop Trail near Loma.

They have been in Grand Junction for the past two weeks and have jumped to one fire on the Bookcliffs in Utah so far, Foley said.

In previous years, they have been deployed to as many as 20 fires in one season.

“We go to pretty remote areas where accessibility is an issue,” Foley said.

All team members have had at least five years of firefighting experience on the ground before joining the smokejumpers.

Often, an experienced crew will be called to assist with larger wildfires by providing supervision and overhead assistance to land managers and other fire departments, Foley said.

There are more than 80 Bureau of Land Management firefighters stationed at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. The firefighters are assigned to serve across the Great Basin states.

In addition to parachute training, the smokejumpers are required to be physically prepared to work in extreme terrain, high altitude, smoke and other dangerous conditions.

“The best part of the job is the places we get to see,” said smokejumper Dan Scaab. “We get to fly to remote places that I probably wouldn’t be able to see if I hadn’t done this job.”


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