Missoula smokejumpers prepare for Montana's fire season


MISSOULA, Mont. - It's that time of the year again when the sun gets hotter and lightning storms roll in. Crews in Montana are preparing for fire season, while those in other states are already busy battling some huge blazes.

Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico have already started their fire season.

The Missoula smokejumpers are a national resource. That's why 30 jumpers dispersed around the southwest to help fight fires.

United States Forest Service assistant foreman Dan Cottrell says smokejumpers prepare for fire season year-round.

"We're preparing for fire season really starting at the end of last fire season," Cottrell said. "We do a lot of off-season training, classroom training, as well as training with the parachutes. We practice jumps and training with the equipment and inspecting and maintaining the equipment."

Part of preparing also includes inspecting all of the parachutes -- making sure there are no rips or broken strings.

According to the National Fire Center, in 2016 more than 114,000 acres burned in Montana wildland fires. The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation says more than 25,000 acres burned in just western Montana.

Cottrell says to prepare for fire season crews have to be able to keep up with the fire.

"It's similar to a sports team. You have to stay in shape, you have to stay ready. There is really no off-season for wildland firefighters," Cottrell said.

The smokejumper base in Missoula is just one of nine bases in the country. There are just over 400 jumpers nationwide, ready to take on the next fire.

But it's not just smokejumpers that are out helping fight fires -- hundreds of firefighters from across Montana scattered into the southwest to help.

With fire season just beginning for parts of the U.S., Cottrell says it's all a team effort made by firefighters around the country.