When wildfires break out, this elite team of ‘smokejumpers’ parachute in

A dangerous race to fight remote fires begins each summer when Alaska's combustible backcountry is ablaze.

Matt Oakleaf, camera mounted on his gear bag, drops behind the rest of his team to a landing site near smoldering boreal forest. Jumpers can put on 100 pounds of gear and get on a plane in minutes. Their mission: extinguish fires before they rage out of control.

The sun is still high in the Alaskan summer sky when the call comes in at 9:47 p.m.

Sirens wail, and eight smokejumpers race to the suit-up racks. Already in logger’s boots, dark green pants, and bright yellow shirts, each man practically leaps into his Kevlar jumpsuit.

“First load to the box!” a voice blares over the intercom. Itchy, Bloemker, O’Brien, Dibert, Swisher, Koby, Swan, Karp, and Cramer are the men at the top of the jump list. All evening they’ve mostly been hanging around the operations desk at their base at Fort Wainwright, cracking jokes and razzing each other, anxiously and excitedly waiting for their turn to leap out of a plane to fight a backcountry forest fire.

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