Wanted: Volunteer lookouts to staff California fire towers

Wanted: Volunteer lookouts to staff California fire towers

20 May 2015

published by www.kcra.com

USA —  Calif.  —Like being alone? Not afraid of heights? Willing to stare off in the distance for hours?

Then Cal Fire wants you.

The state’s firefighting agency recently completed renovations on its Wolf Mountain fire tower near Grass Valley, and is looking for volunteers to staff it.

“On a very clear day, you can see to the coastal range mountains,” Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff said. “So, you’re talking hundreds of miles.”

Watch report: Fire towers to return in California, to help combat fire threat

The fire tower has been closed since 2013 after vandals repeatedly broke in — smashing windows, equipment and even the toilet.

Thanks to a $27,000 grant from PG&E, Cal Fire repaired the damage and increased security.

It is planning to operate the tower as soon as fire officials stop issuing burn permits in the Nevada-Placer-Yuba Unit of Cal Fire.

In 2004, Cal Fire realized citizens with cellphones were reporting most of the wildland fires, and so it reassigned its paid lookouts.

Since then, the agency has relied on volunteers to staff the towers.

Kevin Gallagher, who is now retired from Cal Fire, worked as a paid lookout for 27 years.

He said he spent a lot of time alone with TV, books or anything else that might distract him.

“You’ve got to be watching all the time,” Gallagher said. “Even when you’re preparing your food, you’re still looking.”

Cal Fire said it expects cellphone users will still provide most initial fire reports, but the agency said the lookouts often do a better job of pinpointing a fire’s location.

When two lookouts in two different towers can spot a fire, they are able to triangulate their bearings.

“Once those bearings cross, that’s where your smoke is,” Tolmachoff said. “And you can actually pinpoint that fire within a quarter mile.”

She said the sooner firefighters know where a fire is burning, the sooner they can reach it and try to put it out.

Cal Fire is looking for volunteer lookouts for its Wolf Mountain and Banner Mountain towers.

The agency said familiarity with a communications radio and a compass are helpful skills for volunteer lookouts, but not necessary.

Shifts will last from two to four hours.

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