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Fire Management Today, 2007

Fire Management Today, Summer 2007, p. 18 - Frederick, Ken and Doug, "The man who gave smokejumping its name"

Walter E. Anderson was born in 1896 on his family's homestead in the Cascade Mountains near Easton, WA. His Swedish parents had immigrated to the United States and he "had practically grown up with skis on his feet." He competed in ski jumping tournaments in the 1920s and later helped found three ski clubs in central Washington.

Anderson served in the U.S. Navy during World War I then completed a 2-year college course in business administration. In the early 1920s he signed on with the Forest service as a part-time firefighter. In 1924 he launched his formal Forest Service career as a fire guard. In 1930, after just 6 years with the Forest Service, he was named fire control officer of the Wenatchee National Forest. In 1936, he became chief of fire control for the Chelan (now Okanogan) National Forest.

In 1939, the Forest Service relocated its Aerial Fire Control Experimental Project from California to the Pacific Northwest Region. While the project's focus had been performing experiments with water and chemical bombs, the Forest Service was interested in the possibility of parachuting firefighters and supplies into remote and inaccessible fires. The Chelan Forest became the new research site for this project. Due to health problems, Lage Wernstedt, the veteran forester originally assigned to oversee the project, was replaced by Walt Anderson. Anderson's task was to determine the feasibility of parachuting firefighters into rough terrain, to develop and test clothing for this job, and to investigate equipment and techniques for this experimental program.

Pioneer smokejumper Francis Lufkin (in a 1974 interview for the U.W.'s North Cascades History Project) recalled that Anderson suggested the name "smokejumper" for this new brand of firefighter, since "smokechaser" was already used for ground-based firefighters. At age 43, during the experimental smokejump program's feasibility study, Anderson made three jumps himself. In 1940, smokejumper programs were started in Winthrop, WA, and Missoula, MT. The first operational fire jump occurred on July 12, 1940, on a fire on the Nez Perce National Forest.

Walt Anderson died in 1990 at the age of 94 in Missoula, MT. Doug and Ken Frederick, the authors of this article, are grand-nephews of Walt Anderson. They are both Forest Service wildland fire management veterans, having followed in the footsteps of their great-uncle.

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