Fire Lookouts not obsolete just yet

“It’s like when you’re home and you see a spider running across the carpet, and you see it because it doesn’t belong,” Arizona fire lookout Helen Roe says. “This is my carpet, these trees. I can see when something’s not right. I know this ridge like the back of my hand.”

The Arizona Republic has a lovely feature online profiling Roe and other fire lookouts in the state. The lookout tower she mans is 14×14 feet and includes a catwalk around the edge. The news feature is a great read.

On a clear day, the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff stretch across the western horizon. To the east, rolling waves of ponderosas reach toward Show Low. On a midsummer day, banks of clouds, not quite afternoon storms, drift across the sky.

The story notes that in theory, technology should render the human lookout obsolete, incorporating remote cameras, GPS units, and satellite feeds.

Ritter Butte Lookout
Ritter Butte Lookout, May 2012, photo © 2012 Kelly Andersson

The Oregon Department of Forestry, however, re-opened a fire lookout near John Day, Oregon, this year — and they staffed it because the area is a lightning hotspot for central/eastern Oregon fires. The ODF is working on implementing a new “remote camera detection system”–  and that’s part of the reason for activating this summer the Ritter Butte Lookout, which has not been staffed for something like 20 years.

[Thanks, Dick Mangan]

One thought on “Fire Lookouts not obsolete just yet”

  1. I don’t know how many times I would not have been able to talk to dispatch if it was not for the lookouts relaying messages to them.

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