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Outside Smokejumpers Bolster Alaska Fire Crews

by Chris Klint KTUU TV |

Amid high Interior fire dangers and Red Flag warnings projected to last through the Memorial Day weekend, Alaska fire officials say they have received some high-profile help from Outside fire agencies.

Alaska Fire Service spokesman Sam Harrel said a 16-person smokejumper crew based in Boise, Idaho from the federal Bureau of Land Management arrived Saturday at Fort Wainwright’s Ladd Field near Fairbanks. According to captions in photos taken by Harrel for the Alaska Wildland Fire Information blog, the smokejumpers were making practice jumps to acclimatize themselves before being assigned into Alaska firefighting rotations.

In addition to the smokejumpers, three tankers -- a turboprop Bombardier CL-415 Superscooper, as well as four-engine British Aerospace RJ85 and BAe 146 jets -- were deployed to Fort Wainwright. The Superscooper and RJ8 are based out of Spokane, Wash., while the BAe 146 flies out of Missoula, Mont.

Harrel said Sunday that fire conditions in the Interior, among the worst in the state this weekend, caused Alaska Fire Service officials to call in the backup.

“They would not be here if we were not in this fire danger right now,” Harrel said.

According to Harrel, the British Aerospace planes aren’t the first jet-based fire tankers to visit Alaska, with Evergreen International showing a Boeing 747-based tanker to the Alaska Air Cargo Association in 2004. They’re the first to be actually employed on the Last Frontier, however, with one of the jets making a Saturday retardant drop.

“We have not had jets fight fire here before,” Harrel said. “(Evergreen) brought up the 747, but that was just for a demonstration.”

Harrel said the tankers and smoke jumpers are here for “as long as we need them.”

“They’re available statewide, wherever our needs might lie,” Harrel said. “Right now it’s just the Interior, where conditions are driest and hottest and the area is covered with Red Flag warnings.”