Smokejumper Project, Region Six, 1943

Jack Heintzelman was in charge of the Cave Junction Smokejumpers from the beginning of the base in 1943 through 1945. Originally a Protection Assistant at the Redwood Ranger Station, he had no connection to parachuting. After three years as the head of the Smokejumper project, he returned to forestry duties. The following are excerpts from his 1943 end-of-the-season report to his superior, Forest Supervisor Hershel Obye, Siskiyou National Forest.

Smokejumper Project
Region Six
by Jack G. Heintzelman



Why Organized

In modern day fire fighting, we are constantly working toward the "getting them while they are small" policy. One means of "getting them while they are small" is to reduce travel time to the fire. Means used to accomplish this end have been quick get-a-way, better roads, better trails, more pack stock and trail jeeps. In spite of all this, it was felt that further reduction of travel time must be achieved and would tend toward have less blow-ups and fewer expensive fires.

As a consequence, Region Six, of the Forest Service, added a Smokejumper Squad this year. The Smokejumper, stripped of all adjectives, is a smokechaser with a faster means of travel.

History of Smokejumping

Jumping men to fires is a natural outgrowth of cargo dropping which, by now, is a tried and proven method of supplying back country fires. In the fall of 1939, Region Six made extensive tests in jumping live cargo at Winthrop, Washington. Winthrop was chosen because of its proximity to rugged forest areas. Results of these tests proved:

  1. Men can jump over forest terrain with comparative safety.
  2. Forest Service men with proper physical qualifications and mental attitude for the work could be taught to jump in a comparatively short time.
  3. It is cheaper to train qualified smokechasers to jump than it train parachute jumpers to fight fire.

Smokejumping came into practical use in 1940 with small squads being stationed on the Chelan National Forest in Region Six and on the Bitterroot National Forest in Region One. Nine fires were jumped in Region One, resulting in an estimated savings of $30,000, three times the cost of the entire project.

1941 saw further expansion of smokejumping in Region One and the temporary withdrawal of smokejumpers from Region Six. Region One was set up with three eight-man squads, a project leader and a jumping instructor with the understanding that it would undertake the responsibility of jumping on threatening lightning fires in adjacent portions of Regions Four and Six.

1942 saw further expansion of jumping activities in Region One and by now smokejumping was well established.

1943 brought radical changes. The pressure of the war was making great inroads into the ranks of the Forest Service jumpers. The continuance and expansion of the project stood in jeopardy, due to the labor shortage. Fortunately a new labor pool was created in the form of conscientious objectors from Civilian Public Service (CPS) Camps, selected on a volunteer basis. In view of this supply of labor the project expanded with Region One having four squads of 12 men each, Region Four established a five-man squad, and Region Six returning to active participation with an 11-man squad. All units were headed by the Forest Service.

Personnel - Forest Service

A short term Forest Service man volunteered to head the Region Six squad which was stationed at the Redwood Ranger Station, Cave Junction, Oregon. Unlike Region One squad leaders he had no past experience at smokejumping and, as a consequence, was sent to Seeley lake Ranger Station, Seeley Lake, Montana, in May for training as a rigger, jumper and spotter. He was experienced as a lookout, administrative guard, member of 40-man suppression crew and protective assistant.

The only other Forest Service employee on the squad was a woman cook. She cooked only at the base camp and also cooked for the district 10-man suppression crew when it was not in the field.

Personnel - CPS

The CPS personnel was chosen by a different procedure and inasmuch as Region One performed the original recruitment of conscientious objectors for Region One, Four and Six I take the following directly from a report by Vic Carter, Region One Smokejumper Project Leader: "Approximately 350 applicants from CPS camps in many states were submitted to the National Service Board in Washington for 'weeding' in accordance with requirements and specifications forwarded there by this office. The 118 remaining, applications, somewhat evenly divided among the Brethren, Mennonite and Friends groups, were sent here from which the 60 jumper applications were selected, 20 from each religious group. The final selection was based principally upon work and experience background of the man and his health and freedom from previous injury. The educational standards of the group as a whole, were so high that this factor was practically eliminated as an influencing element in final selection."

"The 60 applicants were in addition to 6 cooks, a CPS camp director, assistant director, dietician, and camp nurse. The 10 overhead were selected by the church organization."

The smokejumper training was held at Seeley Lake Ranger Station, Seeley, Montana. Because of the large class and shortage of equipment the men were trained in two sections. Upon completion of the training of the first section, a squad of ten men was selected and returned to Region Six with the Forest Service smokejumper squad leader.

Region Six Smokejumper Personnel

  • Jack Heintzelman, Squad Leader
  • Lillie White, Cook
  • William Lauglin
  • Gerrit Rozeboom
  • Marvin Graeler
  • Winton Stucky
  • Walter Buller
  • Kenneth Diller
  • Calvin Hilty
  • Ray Hudson
  • Gus Jenzen
  • Floyd Yoder

Relation of Project to Region Six

The Region Six smokejumper project was stationed at the Redwood Ranger Station, Cave Junction, Oregon. Though it was located on the Page Creek Ranger District, it, through the squad leader, was directly responsible to the Siskiyou National Forest Supervisor and, more particularly, to the Assistant Supervisor who is the Forest's fire control assistant. Dispatching of smokejumpers to fires cleared through the Supervisor's office. The crew, in addition to being available to all the National Forests in Region Six, was also available to the Klamath, Trinity and Shasta National Forests of Region Five. Though the machinery was set up for fire jumps outside the Siskiyou, due to mild fire season all jumps were confined to the Siskiyou.


Parachute Loft

The main project for the summer for the Region Six jumpers was the construction of a parachute loft at the Redwood Ranger Station....

The bulk of the material needed for the construction of this building was obtained by salvaging a barracks building at the Grayback CCC Camp. Additional materials were requisitioned through the Supervisor's office and expedited by them in order to whip the building into shape as soon as possible.

Building the Loft, 1943

Building the Loft, 1943

One of the CPS men, Tay Hudson, had previous experience in the designing and construction of houses and upon him fell the job of designing the loft and the subsequent task of supervising its construction.....

At this writing the building is completed with the exception of minor plumbing and several inside finishing jobs which we are saving for wet weather. We have one excellent packing table and can readily improvise another from miscellaneous tables around the ranger station. An early fire season next year will find us prepared in this respect and in a position to rapidly place our equipment back in order.

It should be borne in mind that our equipment and personnel training allows only for the making of minor repairs on damaged parachutes and chutes sustaining need for major repair must be sent to Montana. Because of the shortage of equipment in Region One, replacements from there have been slow in coming in. This should not be construed in any way as a criticism of Region One cooperation as their personnel has gone overboard in aiding us within the limits of their time and equipment.

While not directly part of the loft, we have constructed a practice let-down adjacent to the loft for the purpose of obtaining practice in letting ourselves down out of trees. The let-down is a pulley device suspended between two trees. Using this, we can pull a man in jumping equipment and harness to a height of 60 feet. It then becomes his task to utilize his ropes and lower himself tot he ground. This simulates field conditions in getting out of trees should a jumper be left suspended.

In addition we are commencing the construction of a jumping tower which can be used to train new jumpers and freshen experienced jumpers in the techniques of leaving the plane and absorbing the opening shock. It will be modeled after the Region One tower in Seeley Lake, Montana. An obstacle course is also planned and will be constructed adjacent to the loft at the earliest opportunity.

Airport Facilities

Airport facilities at hand are adequate. The Illinois Valley Airport, a Forest Service field is located four miles south of Cave Junction on the Redwood Highway. This dirt field is 4500 feet long and 300 feet wide, and center 150 feet of surface being relatively smooth. It lays close to north and south and usually has winds parallel to its direction. The only improvements at the airport are a wind sock which functions satisfactorily, and a telephone. Fence posts were erected entirely around the field at the time of its construction but wire has never been stretched between them.

One improvement to be desired should the jumper project remain here is an adequate hangar. It is appreciated that building materials are scarce but a hangar could be constructed at a minimum cost with CPS labor and natural materials. Hewn timbers could be used for the structural members and shakes could be made by the crew.

The airport is well located in relation to the Siskiyou National Forest and is centrally located in regard to the Siskiyou lightning zone.

Airplane Hire

The most difficult task in establishing a smokejumper project in this region was the obtaining of a suitable airplane. The plane needed to be sufficiently large to handle at least two jumpers, their cargo, a spotter, and a pilot. This calls for a plane of the seven passenger class. In addition it must be a slow plane or one which can be throttled down to a slow speed. The following quotation from the Certificate of Award for the hire of a seven passenger Fairchild from the S&M Flying Service presents the difficulty: "In connection with securing a plane for use with a 10-man parachute smokejumping crew, contact was made with Wing Commander of the local Civil Air Patrol. Under date of June 21, 1943, he advised that only one plane of the size required was available in this territory and that all other planes had either been requisitioned by the owners or were on active duty assignment with the Civil Air Patrol Coastal Patrol and the Southern Liaison Patrol."

The S&M Flying Service was awarded a contract calling for use of L.C. Moore's seven passenger Fairchild airplane, and for pilot Larry Moore to fly the plane. Under the circumstances as stated above this was the best arrangement that could be made at the time. Under this arrangement the pilot agreed to have the plane available on two hours notice. In addition, the plane being stationed in Dallesport, Washington, it would take approximately three hours for it to fly to Cave Junction, Oregon, to be available for jumping. This was the theory of it, but in practice the plane's availability was not as specified in the contract. Due to radio difficulties, difficulties in gassing the plane enroute and other troubles it was consistently late. Pilot Moore was extremely cooperative and it is felt made every effort to fulfill is contract but in actual practice, the availability of the plane was not satisfactory. This should be borne in mind and should, if possible, be remedied before next fire season. In bending every effort to cut travel time to fire by utilizing smokejumpers we are losing a great deal of our advantage by not having a plane on tap for quick get-a-way.


Fire Jumps

Six fires were jumped to this year on the Siskiyou National Forest. Fire jumps were made in two sessions and in both sessions the plane had be ordered for routine refresher jumps and therefore was on hand when the fires came. Admittedly the plane was ordered for the second session with two things in mindÐrefresher jumps being due, and promise of a possible lightning storm threat.

Just one of the six fires jumped was a "B" fire and the rest were "A"s. One fire jump showed promise of developing rapidly to a large size. This was the Holcomb Peak fire which started in a snag patch and, thanks to the smokejumpers, was kept from spreading until an adequate ground crew arrived. One highlight of the jumping occurred when two jumpers jumped to two fires on successive days, the fires being at opposite ends of the Siskiyou.

All fire jumps were made without injury and all smokejumpers save one managed to reach the ground without having to rely on their let-down ropes. The only jumper not reaching the ground was left suspended two feet up. Jumps were made everywhere from 200 yards to three-quarters of a mile from the fire. Cargo was usually dropped to the jumpers rather than at the fire because it is too difficult to find equipment in the Siskiyou brush, unless the jumper actually sees where it goes. There will, of course, be times and places where cargo can be dropped closer to the fire. Parachutes, unless readily obtainable, were usually left hanging until the fires were controlled. This point calls for emphasis in future planning as considerable time may be lost in collecting a parachute and placing it in it pickup bag. If the chute is on the ground and easily retrievable, it is good business to get it under cover. All jumpers were extremely enthusiastic and desirous of making more fire jumps.


Summary and Recommendations

  1. This year's Region Six project was somewhat experimental but we conclusively feel that results achieved justify its continuance.
  2. Jumps were made with comparative safety, only one man being incapacitated for a period of time and he should be available next fire season.
  3. CPS men proved to be of good caliber and though new to both parachute jumping and firefighting took to them well.
  4. The number of fires (6) jumped this season was not a fair test of the smokejumper squad's worth.
  5. The present plane arrangement is unsatisfactory. The theory of quick get-a-ways is suffering as a result of the plane being stationed three hours from the smokejumper squad. Additional losses in time further complicate its value.
  6. Additional parachutes are needed. Jumpers can jump to fires, control them, return to their base and be ready to go again before their chutes can be repaired and made ready for further jumps.
  7. The 30-foot Eagle back pack parachute has not proved too satisfactory due to the strong opening shock it provides. We had one relatively bad injury as the result of one of these openings. It is suggested that either 27-foot Eagle chutes or 28-foot Irvin chutes be substituted for them next season.
  8. Communications from plane to ground needs improvement. Each two-man jumper squad should be provided with a radio. In addition, SPF radios should be available for use on more troublesome fires.
  9. The desirability of a light portable pumper for dropping to fires should be investigate.
  10. The active Western Air Defense zone rules little hindrance to our activities.
  11. Ten men do not approach satisfactory the need for smokejumping throughout Region Six.

Mick Swift climbs a giant ponderosa pine tree to retrieve his parachute

Mick Swift climbs a giant ponderosa pine tree to retrieve his parachute

grants pass courier article june 19 2010

Smokejumper uses propeller to crank-start Fairchild jump plane before jump

Smokejumper uses propeller to crank-start Fairchild jump plane before jump