CA Smokejumping Origins

How the California Smokejumpers Began

The first fire jump in California was made on the Klamath National Forest in 1944 by smokejumpers from Cave Junction, Oregon.  In 1945, Paul Stathem, supervisor of the Sequoia National Forest in southern California, mobilized smokejumpers from the Siskiyou Smokejumper Base to respond to fires.  According to Paul, smokejumpers left Cave Junction early in the evening in a Noorduyn Norseman, but it took them all night to fly to the Sequoia, because of the required oil and publicity stops.

After Stathem became supervisor of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, he launched a campaign to attain a permanently based California Smokejumper Crew.  Formal approval was given for the project in 1956.  During the winter of 1956-57, plans were formulated for the organization, training and housing of the new crew.

In March 1957, Regional personnel from forest service regions five (California) and six (Oregon) met. These regional managers would "... firm up plans for the activation of the Redding Jump Base to determine the best way of moving facilities from the Cave Junction Base to Redding..."  A committee was formed to over see the implementation of the project.  It was decided that the smokejumpers based at Cave Junction would receive all the training for 1957 and that region five personnel should immediately begin plans to layout and construct their own training facilities as soon as possible.  Already apparent to the planners was the fact that, "the site for all of this training material may require more room than we have here in Redding, and...these devices will have to be built at the Redding Airport."

Transcripts indicate that training was of primary concern, and in addition to physical conditioning and smokejumper training, it was expected that jumper training candidates would participate in a, "training program similar to that prepared for a Guard Training Camp," including such subjects as woodsmanship, small fire suppression, fire behavior, crew action on fires, safe practices and snag felling.  A training plan for the use of helicopters was devised and plans were made to use the Klamath helicopter at Cave Junction for this purpose.

Stathem traveled to the Region 1 Smokejumper Base in Missoula, Montana to screen candidates for the California foreman job, and selected Fred Barnowsky to head the first region 5 smokejumper crew.  Barnowsky arrived in Redding in early spring to assume his duties, and began planning for the upcoming season.  After completing the refresher training as scheduled in Cave Junction, three overhead and six other experienced jumpers were sent to Redding on the previously agreed date of June 15th, and together with Barnowsky formed the core of the first crew.  New man training commenced at the Siskiyou Smokejumper Base and continued through mid July with thirty rookies receiving instruction.  The new man training session was completed on Friday, July 12th, and fifteen of these men moved to Redding that afternoon.  Bob Kersh, the Region V parachute technician rounded out the contingent as loft foreman.

The unit was administratively attached to the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, and housed in federal buildings in downtown Redding off of Parkview Drive.  The first fire jump for the California Smokejumpers - a four manner - was out of a Lockheed Lodestar, July 19, 1957, on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.  The four jumpers making this jump were Warren Webb, Hal Werner, Fritz Koepp and Vern Lattin.

Utilization of the region 5 crew was concentrated primarily on the Shasta-Trinity, but jumps were also made on the Klamath, Mendocino, Lassen, Sequoia and Six Rivers National Forests in Northern California.  Out-of-region trips included dispatches to the Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada and the Siskiyou National Forest in Oregon, resulting in an active and exciting first year for the California unit.  Totals for Redding were twenty-six smokejumpers making 139 fire jumps (10 made by out-of-region personnel) on twenty-four fires.  Charles Engstrom and Dennis Bradley each logged sixteen parachute jumps - highs for the season.