Many guests of our Missoula Bed and Breakfast have found the Missoula Smokejumpers Visitor Center an interesting place to visit.
The idea of patrolling the skies to look for forest fires was first broached not long after the end of WWI, and the initial test flights took place in the spring of 1919. By 1925, air patrols over Montana, Idaho, and Eastern Washington were in place. Lieutenant Nick B. Mamer and R.T. Freng were the first two pilots for the patrol; they flew patrols in the Northern Rocky Region for a decade, from 1925-35.
Initially, the flights were used only for patrols and to photograph the region. It was not until 1929 that aircraft were used to drop supplies to firefighters on the ground; By 1935, it had become common practice for planes to drop supplies to firefighters, but it was widely deemed too dangerous for men to parachute to fires in order to fight them.
Indeed, there were many obstacles to overcome before smokejumping could be tried. Simply finding the appropriate equipment required a Herculean effort – the jumpers needed to land safely in all sorts of conditions before fighting the fires. At last, the first fire jumps were made by Rufus Robinson and Early Cooley on July 12, 1940 – just nine days after they completed their training at Seely Lake, north of Missoula.
There are approximately 80 smokejumpers stationed and working in Missoula. Free tours are offered daily year round: between Labor Day and Memorial Day, visitors are asked to make an appointment at least 2 days prior to your visit.
If you’ve ever marveled at smokejumpers, or wondered what the work they do is like, plan to visit the Smokejumpers Visitor Center the next time you stay at our Bed and Breakfast Missoula MT.