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Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

Smokejumpers Descend On Missoula To Celebrate Their 75th Anniversary

Helena's Jim Phillips clearly remembers the hot, dry, stormy summer of 1967. Wildfires were popping up across the west that year. That also happened to be Phillips' first year as a smokejumper.

Now, Phillips is organizing the 75th anniversary reunion for the smokejumper program. He spoke with MTPR's Edward O'Brien about the reunion, and the work smokejumpers do.

"All the bases in the other regions expended all their smokejumpers on other fires and they would call Missoula and we'd go. We'd attend to the ones in our region, but we were also on call to the others, and there were a lot of calls," Phillips says.

"We're losing a lot of those pioneer smokejumpers, and it's [the reunion] an opportunity to reaffirm ourselves a little bit and be glad that we're still alive."

Phillips was a young veteran attending the University of Montana who needed some extra cash that summer. He thought smokejumping - parachuting into the backcountry to battle wildfire - would be a good fit.

The Forest Service's smokejumping program was only about 27-years-old then. It celebrates its 75th anniversary this weekend.

Hundreds of former smokejumpers descend on Missoula starting Friday to celebrate this year's National Smokejumper Association Reunion.

Learn more about the reunion in the full interview above.

Edward O'Brien is Montana Public Radio's Associate News Director.
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