The Birth of the Smokejumpers:
Smokejumping was born on the Nez Perce National Forest. It was on the Nez Perce Forest's Moose Creek Ranger District that Rufus Robinson, of Kooskia, Idaho and Earl Cooley, of Hamilton, Montana, made the nation's first "live" fire jump, at the Martin Creek Fire on July 12, 1940. Robinson's and Cooley's squad had been positioned by the Region One Smokejumper Program at the remote Moose Creek Ranger Station, where a parachute loft was built in 1941 to better accommodate Smokejumper operations in this vicinity.
In 1951 the Region One jumpers established a base at Grangeville in order to facilitate initial attack operations across the Nez Perce and Clearwater National Forests and on adjacent lands. In 1972, however, the Nez Perce National Forest assumed direct administration of the Grangeville unit, with Geof Hochmuht hired in the spring of 1973 as the first "Grangeville Smokejumper" rookie. Since the subsequent integration of fire management operations on the Nez Perce and Clearwater Forests, the Grangeville Smokjumper program has remained under the administrative auspices of the Nez Perce-Clearwater fire management zone.
Nez Perce Smokejumping Statistics:
Over 7,000 fire jumps have been made out of Grangeville since the establishment of smokejumper operations there in 1951. In busier seasons the base provides aerial delivery of firefighters to well over 100 incidents, with the number of jumpers per fire averaging around 3.5.
The Grangeville Smokejumper program has included more than its share of noteworthy characters over the years. A prime example would be former GAC squad leader Walt "Big Bull" Currie, who in July of 2004 made his 260th jump at age 61 on the Jacob Fire (near the Cat's Head in the Salmon River breaks). Currie rookied at Missoula in 1975. Through frequent boosts to Grangeville Currie came to love the Nez Perce country, and in 1987 he transferred permanently to the Grangeville base, remaining active there through his retirement after the 2004 season.
Another significant figure is "Captain" Bob Nicol, who recently culminated a 50-year affiliation with the smokejumper community. Nicol completed rookie training in Missoula in 1952, where he jumped for a decade. Nicol then went on to pilot smokejumper aircraft out of McCall and Grangeville until his retirement from the Nez Perce Smokejumper program in the fall of 2004. Along the way Nicol flew in support of rescue and logistical operations for a variety of organizations, in settings from Asia to the Artic.