The Associated Press
CAVE JUNCTION, Ore. A man who spent 17 summers leaping from airplanes to fight wildfires is leading an effort to establish a smokejumper museum at an old base in southern Oregon.
Gary Buck's first jump on a forest fire was in 1966 in the rugged and remote Illinois River drainage in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area.
"I was scared," Buck said. "When you are out there looking down from 1,000 feet up, the terrain looks rough and scary. "There are lots of hazards. Snags. Big rocks."
But Buck never regretted making the leap into an airborne firefighting career that began at the Siskiyou Smokejumper Base south of Cave Junction, the first U.S. Forest Service smokejumper base in Oregon when it opened in 1943.
Buck, 60, is the president of the Siskiyou Smokejumper Base Museum Project, the nonprofit group trying to establish a smokejumper museum at the base, which closed more than 25 years ago.
The group's nomination resulted in the base being named to the National Register of Historic Places last November.
Sharon Westcott, an ultralight aircraft instructor and project member, said the museum wouldn't be a static place full of dusty antiques.
"We want to build a real active exhibit,'' Westcott said. "We want it to be a destination museum."
The historic buildings on the base are empty now of those who wore jump suits. The smokejumpers who worked there went on to become everything from attorneys to astronauts.
Buck said it wasn't the $2 an hour they were paid in the mid-1960s that drew them to the hazardous duty.
He figures it was the spirit of adventure that drove them to give up the safety of airplanes and jump over a wildfire.
"Whatever it was, I sure liked them," he said of his fellow smokejumpers. "They are classy, funny, real characters. They would go way beyond the norm to do a job."