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As It Was: Conscientious Objectors Staff Early Smokejumping Base

Conscientious objectors staffed one of Oregon’s first smokejumper firefighting bases during World War II in the Redwood Forest Ranger District in Cave Junction.

The station opened in 1943 in response to balloon bombs sent by the Japanese military in an unsuccessful attempt to ignite forest fires along the Oregon Coast.

Smokejumpers parachute out of planes into remote forests to fight small fires to keep them from spreading.   The base at Cave Junction continued operating after the war as one of four major bases in Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.  Its crews responded to thousands of fires caused by lightning or manmade in the western states.  It operated until 1981 when the Forest Service centralized Oregon smokejumping operations in Redmond.

Smokejumping remains an important part of wildfire fighting.  The U.S. Forest Service has some 320 smokejumpers working from seven bases in five western states. 

The Cave Junction smokejumper base, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is now a museum located on the Illinois Valley Airstrip outside of Cave Junction.

 

Sources: "Smokejumpers." US Forest Service, US Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture, www.fs.fed.us/science-technology/fire/smokejumpers; Albert, Tommy. "Siskiyou Smokejumper Base Museum." Siskiyou Smokejumper Base Museum, US Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture, www.siskiyousmokejumpersmuseum.org; "Crew Photo 1949-1950." SODA: Southern Oregon Digital Archives, Southern Oregon University, crew photo 1949-1950 - stories of southern oregon, digital.sou.edu/digital/collection/p1608coll11/id/1335/.

Sharon Bywater of Ashland, Oregon grew up in Southern California. She taught English literature and writing at Syracuse University in New York, where she also wrote and edited adult literacy books and published freelance articles in local media. Later, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked as an international telecommunications policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She has Master’s degrees in English and Communications Management.