Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Carl A. Seielstad

Commitee Members

LLoyd P. Queen, Charles G. Palmer


spatial, smokejumper, GIS, wildfire, utilization


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Forest Management | Forest Sciences | Other Forestry and Forest Sciences


This research examines patterns of aerial smokejumper usage in the United States. I assess landscape and environmental factors of their deployment using a detailed nine-year record of smokejumper activity in combination with terrain, fuels, and transportation network data. Specifically, the research seeks to identify commonalities in location (proximity), terrain, fuels, fire occurrence, and accessibility of smokejumper actions that inform current usage and identify opportunities for improved utilization. Terrain parameters (steep, rugged, inaccessible) of the western U.S. were classified and a baseline travel time grid was created (30 meter resolution). Fires in which smokejumpers responded were compared with all fires that occurred (Fire Program Analysis Fire Occurrence Database) on the same landscape during the same time period. Most (96%) aerial smokejumper actions (2004-2012) in the western U.S. and Alaska were recovered from the Smokejumper Master Action Database and used in this analysis. Results reveal differences between incidents in which smokejumpers were used when compared with total fire load. In the context of total fire load smokejumpers are dispatched to fires in steeper (+117%), rougher (+100%), and higher terrain (+51%). Additional analysis reveals that smokejumpers are utilized further from roads (+375%), on landscapes that are harder to access on foot (+473%), and on incidents that are proximal to bases where jumpers are stationed (-33%). The identified patterns in smokejumper utilization provide a systematic assessment that helps explain where and how smokejumpers are currently being used. The research also quantified the occurrence of steep, rugged, and inaccessible terrain across the western U.S. and showed that more than half of the western U.S is within a 20 minute walk of the nearest road and 83 percent is within one hour. The most remote location based on Euclidean distance is in the Thorofare Basin of Yellowstone NP (21.5 miles). Based on hiking time, the most difficult to reach location is near Halfway Creek between Fish Lake and Moose Creek in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness (29 hours). The travel-time results have utility beyond smokejumping in the areas of wildlife management, recreation, and search and rescue. This study provides the groundwork and takes an initial step toward the culminating goal of improving the efficacy of the U.S smokejumper program and the wildland fire community as a whole.



© Copyright 2014 Tyson A. Atkinson