Library Resource Highlight: The Smokejumper Digital Archive

February 28, 2020

A group of men gathered at a United States Forest Service station near Winthrop, Washington to test a theory. Was it practical to deliver trained wildland fire fighters and their equipment via air? Smokejumping was born from these experiments. The Eastern Washington University Libraries, through a partnership with the National Smokejumper Association, is pleased to host the Smokejumper Digital Archive, which contains photographs and digitized footage from those first experiments.

Pilot Harold C. King with two test jumpers in Winthrop, WA, 1939.

Even in this day and age vast areas of the West are difficult, if not impossible, to access via automobile. Not coincidentally, these areas of wilderness often contain our nation’s largest forests. Many of these forests were even more inaccessible in 1939, thus making a new method of firefighting necessary to contain the negative impacts of forest fires. As fires have grown more severe in recent years, the importance of smokejumpers and other wildland firefighters has grown.

Lieutenant Clifford Allen with smokejumper gear in Pendleton, OR, circa 1945.

The Smokejumper Digital Archive contains materials that document this history of smokejumping from its origin in 1939 to the current decade through photographs, film, and publications, such as Smokejumper magazine. To view the original documents, one would need to travel across the Northwest and to Washington, D.C. The digital archive exists as a central point of access for people to use these materials for educational purposes. The Smokejumper Digital Archive provides a glimpse into the evolution of this innovative practice and the men and women who perform the grueling work that saves lives and our forests.

– Steven Bingo, Digital Projects Archivist