Smokejumper site saved

February 21, 2007 12:00 am

Triplicate staff

The last of the original four smokejumper bases has joined the National Register of Historic Places.

Set up in the 1940s so that crews could fight fires in southwest Oregon and northern California, the Siskiyou Smoke-jumper Base near Cave Junction, Ore., includes the oldest smokejumper parachute loft in North America.

Members of the Siskiyou Smokejumper Base Museum Project nominated the site in 2005. The designation can allow federal tax breaks for Josephine County and grants for building preservation work and exhibit development.

"This validates what we have known all along about the importance of the base," said Sharon Westcott, a member of the project that has worked create a tourist attraction out of the site. "This is a place with a history that is full of action and adventure.

"We are lucky to have this one-of-a-kind tourist story in this region."

The group plans to install exhibits, maintain the grounds and facilities, add a visitor center, gift shop and eatery.

The U.S. Forest Service built the Illinois Valley airport in 1940 and service planes began dropping supplies to crews fighting wild fires. Smoke-jumping started at the airfield in 1943, but facility construction stalled until the end of World War II.

The base operated for nearly 40 years, dispatching jumper crews through much of the U.S. before closing in 1981. Josephine County took over the site a few years later.