A forest on fire


R.1, R.3, R.4

Flying Into the Flames

When wildfires break out, smokejumpers like Madison Whittenmore save the day. 

Missoula Smokejumpers

    If there’s a fire in your town, you might see a bright-red truck rushing to the scene. But if a fire starts in a forest, fighting it is trickier. These wildfires can spread quickly. Plus, without roads nearby, they can be harder to get to.  

    That’s where Madison Whittenmore can help. She’s a smokejumper. It’s her job to fight fires in faraway areas. How does Madison get there? By jumping out of a plane! Once she lands, she works with other smokejumpers to stop the fire from spreading. We asked Madison about her job. 

Courtesy of Madison Whittenmore

Wildfire Season
Most wildfires happen between March and October. During these months, Madison’s team has to be ready to go at all times!

Can you describe a typical jump?    
    When our siren goes off, we have about seven minutes to get dressed in our gear and get on the plane. Once we arrive at the fire, we must decide how many people to send down. This depends on how large the fire is. Finally, we pick a safe spot to jump to and get to work.

How do you put a fire out once you’ve landed?      
    Our goal is to remove any material that can burn. We call this fuel, and it can include things like branches and bushes. Next, we use special tools to dig a deep line around the fire. Both of these steps help to stop the fire from spreading without needing to use any water. 

What do you remember most about your first jump?   
    I was surprised by how quiet it was! After your parachute opens, you’re just floating in the air until you land. It’s so peaceful.

Do you ever get nervous?  
    Definitely. But I try to remember that my fear keeps me safe. Being scared means I’m paying attention to my surroundings. That’s important in my job.  

What advice do you have for pushing past fear?  
    Visualize yourself doing the thing that you’re nervous about. Then visualize yourself succeeding. What does that look like? This can help you feel brave and confident.

What do you love most about your job?  
    I love being outdoors, and my team is like my family. The U.S. Forest Service smokejumpers have been around since the 1940s. We’re proud of that! 

Missoula Smokejumpers

When she jumps, Madison brings enough food and supplies with her to last three to four days. Large fires can take that long to put out!

Mini Skills Workout

What to do: Write your answers to the questions below on a separate sheet of paper. 

Madison says to visualize yourself doing something you’re nervous about. What does that word mean?

What two steps does Madison take to put out a fire?

Find a sentence where Madison explains how fear can help her in her job.

videos (1)
Skills Sheets (1)