U.S. Forest Service hotshots and smokejumpers prepare to head behind fire lines
REDDING, Calif. —
Whether it's jumping 1,500 to 3,000 feet or hiking miles and miles by foot and car, these United States Forest Service smokejumpers and hotshots charged with heading behind the fire lines when it's too unsafe for others.
United States Forest Service has a base located in Redding and I got the chance to meet with one of the smokejumpers and rookie trainer, Matt Weston.
Weston has been smokejumper for five years but "before I became a smokejumper, I spent 10 years in fire," said Weston.
There are hundreds of smokejumpers in the U.S. who are all highly trained firefighters that parachute out of planes to quickly attack wildland fires in remote areas.
Weston said as a leader, he would have to map out the fire, figure out what he needed to know about the fire before making the jump within minutes.
"About three to four minutes, something like that… You can really identify things pretty quickly and then what you can identify you can truth it when you get on the ground,” said Weston.
The Hotshot crew superintendent Dan Mallia has been with the crew for 14 years.
"I spent one year as a crew member, five years as a captain and then spent the last nine years as a superintendent," said Mallia.
Mallia said with the Hotshot crews, they are larger crews that tackle bigger fires. Hotshots and Smokejumpers are elite firefighters both battling wildfires before it spreads far enough to pose a threat. However, Mallia said there is a difference.
"The biggest difference is just the way we're delivered to the fire. So Smokejumpers are delivered aerial. And then obviously we show up to the fire in a variety of different ways. A Hotshot crew is a 20 person hand crew and basically, our focus is large fire suppression. We'll have saws go through first. The saws will take out all the brush and any small trees or hanging brush and they'll go through the saws will clear the path," said Mallia.
Working with the crew can mean spending hours away from their families, trying to prevent fires from spreading.
"I remember in 2013 when I was a crew member, I was running a chainsaw and I ran that chainsaw for about 30 hours. Not nonstop but like, you know, we cut line and stop, cut line and stop..." explained Mallia.
In 2017, a movie called 'Only the Brave' was released. It was about 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot crew members who died battling the Yarnell Hill fire in Arizona back in 2013.
Mallia said he remembered when he heard the news back in 2013 when he was with a crew member with his team in Alaska.
"We heard 19 had perished and a crew is 20 and the first thing... I thought of that was 'the superintendent watched his crew died.' That was the first thing I thought about because often time I'm not with right with the crew so that was the first thing that I thought and then the utter shock of getting over it. A crew we were with, he knew those guys personally, knew the superintendent and had worked with him in the past... and uh, it was just a lot of talking and a lot of just "what happened?' what happened?'" Mallia expressed sadly.