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Smokejumper22.jpg

This week, the highly specialized firefighters known as "smokejumpers" kicked off their weeks-long annual training, as wildfire season gets underway.

 

Smokejumpers are a select group of firefighters who parachute into otherwise inaccessible areas to fight wildfires. Often, they  provide the initial suppression efforts for fires that threaten to grow out of control. Their rigorous training routines have been

developed over the course of 70 years- the program was founded in 1939. The United States Forest Service (USFS) currently employs over 270 smokejumpers at bases in Idaho, California, Montana,  Washington, and Oregon, while the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employs around 150 in Idaho and Alaska. However, they can travel anywhere in the country to fight fires, often spending months away from home during wildfire season.

 

When not fighting fires, smokejumpers can be assigned to various projects that allow them to apply their unique skill set. According to USFS, this can include "brush piling,

prescribed burning and other fuels management projects, construction and maintenance of facilities, or trail maintenance." Last month, a group of smokejumpers used their expertise in tree-climbing to assist the US Department of Agriculture in combating an invasive beetle that is destroying trees in an Ohio township.

 

Read more about smokejumpers and see photos of their training in a recent article from Mashable.

 

photo courtesy of Mashable.

The Black Forest Fire wrecked devastation in 2013
Photo courtesy of the Denver Press


After seeing the devastation wildfires brought to his hometown of Colorado Springs, Hayden Noel decided to help his community better prepare for future wildfires. Hayden, a 20-year-old college student, decided to go door-to-door in his neighborhood to spread awareness about fire safety. With the help of his roommate, he distributed informational packets about evacuation preparation. Hayden compiled the packets himself using research from various sources including his own experiences as a Colorado Springs Fire Department Explorer, a program coordinated by the Colorado Springs Fire Department. His special delivery included instructions for making a Go-bag, directions for home escape plans and secondary escapes, communication ideas, and suggestions to ensure one’s insurance covers fires.

Hayden was particularly inspired by the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012 and Black Forest Fire in 2013, both of which affected his hometown. 

“I witnessed so many families lose so much because they were unprepared and didn't know what to do. By making a simple plan you can avoid unnecessary loss,” he said. 

Hayden explains most people that he and his roommate encountered were receptive to their message. He said that many had been previously unaware of fire risks and mitigation techniques that they can adopt in their homes and on their property to improve wildfire safety. 

Hayden said his neighborhood is diverse, with a mix of families and college students. Since starting this project, his neighbors have not only become more aware of potential fire hazards, but they have also become more proactive with wildfire preparation. Members of his community have gotten into the habit of alerting their neighbors to potential dangers; and this camaraderie, he says, is just as important as the fire safety itself. 

“I think it is important to build social solidarity in communities so that we may handle catastrophic events with ease and lean on each other in times of peril… In the grand scheme of things this project was more about bringing communities together than fire preparedness. The more we are all involved in each other’s lives the more we can help each other, especially during a fire.”

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Sarah Groenwald




After years of significant wildfires across the front range of Colorado, Wildland Restoration Volunteers (WRV) began work on fire restoration projects. Sarah Groenwald, a 20-year-old student at Colorado State University, worked on these projects as a volunteer, and for her efforts was awarded a $500 TakeAction education funding awards from State Farm. Groenwald is one of ten middle school through college age students selected from almost 40 applicants to receive the TakeAction wildfire risk reduction community service project award for her efforts to curb the risk of wildfires in her community.


Groenwald has worked with WRV for four seasons in various roles. This year she was an intern and project leader for a fuels reduction project at Ben Delatour Scout Ranch.  In this project, certified sawyers cut down trees to create buffer zones in an effort to reduce the likelihood and intensity of fires. Volunteers also assisted in removing dropped logs out of the treatment area. As a project leader, Groenwald was responsible for recruitment, site visits, interacting with landowners, sending out project updates, running briefings and managing crews in the field, among other tasks.


She was inspired to get involved with wildfire work after witnessing the impact fire can have before and after a blaze. 


“I was in high school in Boulder when the Fourmile fire came through,” Groenwald said. “A lot of people I knew were evacuated and unsure of what would happen to their homes. I later did work on a couple projects following the High Park fire in Fort Collins where I saw first-hand the insane destruction that wildfires can have.”


Groenwald said that their work helped protect the Elk Creek watershed and the Scout Ranch, allowing for more boy scouts to enjoy the outdoors and learn about protecting natural lands. “I could not be happier with the outcome and impact of the project,” she said. She is already working with the program director to schedule more fuels-related projects for next season.


“The more we work to make the high-risk areas safe from destructive wildfires, the less uncertainty people will have surrounding the safety of their homes,” she said, “and there will be less to rebuild in a fire’s wake.”


 

 

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