A wisp of white-grey clouds in the distance. The gnawing sense of trouble forming on the horizon. The sound of static is broadcast as Buck Rock’s fire watcher radios Porterville Dispatch.
In a steady voice, the fire watcher announces, “Porterville – Buck Rock – Smoke Report.” Fire watchers wanted
Years before the first fire lookout was built in the U.S. in 1876, fire watchers safeguarded the forest, warning when smoke billowed above the trees. Traveling on horseback or by foot, fire watchers pitched a tent on mountaintops or high elevations to view the forest. Once spotting smoke, the fire watcher would chase down and fight the fire. Fire watchers wanted
Today, fire watchers peer from lookouts stationed on ridgetops throughout the forest. Modern communications equipment such as radios and cell phones or landline telephones are used to report fires and other emergency incidents. Fire watchers wanted
According to Kathy Allison, Buck Rock Foundation president, fire lookouts or towers are often thought of as a thing of the past, but in many areas they continue to play an essential role in fire management programs. Fire watchers wanted
“Here in the Sequoia National Forest, there are still fire watchers on the lookout for that little wisp of smoke that may turn into a larger, destructive wildfire if not for their keen eye and quick report,” she said. Fire watchers wanted
Once, there were over 40 fire towers between the Kings River to the north and the Tehachapi Mountains to the south. Fire watchers wanted
“Although the numbers have dwindled — four of the remaining nine standing fire towers in the Sequoia National Forest are staffed — lookouts still play an important role in the detection of wildfires and often provide critical radio communications,” Kathy continued. “They also offer a unique opportunity for forest visitors to enjoy a spectacular view and to learn more about the forest.”
Much like their predecessors, today’s fire watchers carry on the tradition, reporting the signs of impending danger. According to Wendy Garton, Buck Rock Foundation volunteer coordinator, fire watch of the local mountains is achieved by Buck Rock, Delilah, and Park Ridge lookouts.
“From mid-May to early November, 50 volunteer fire watchers work in conjunction with the Hume Lake District fire watcher to survey the horizon toward the Great Western Divide from the Kings River to the Kaweah River and the foothill and mountain communities,” Wendy explained. Fire watchers wanted
“All of us, including fire managers, go into the fire season with baited breath and concern for the fire danger in all directions posed by the devastating tree mortality,” said Wendy. “Millions of dead trees are covering much of our visuals, and the hazards they bring are absolutely frightening.”
For the Squaw Valley-based Buck Rock Foundation, the 2020 fire season will begin in mid-February with the planning and coordinating of its Volunteer Lookout Training Program. Orientation for new volunteers will be at the Sequoia National Forest’s Hume Lake District Office on Saturday, April 4. Training for all volunteers will be at the Sierra National Forest Supervisor’s Office in Clovis on Saturday, April 25.
Interesting in becoming a volunteer fire watcher. Read more about the job and requirements here.