Leader

Collapse

Announcement

Collapse
No announcement yet.

Arizona-Fire Lookouts

Collapse
X
 
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Arizona-Fire Lookouts

    By JOHN STANLEY
    The Arizona Republic
    PHOENIX (AP) - Her office is the size of a king-size bed.
    And it's 45 feet in the air.
    If Donna Ashworth is lucky, she'll have work for five months of
    the year, earning an hourly wage not much more than that of an
    urban burger flipper.
    Over the years Ashworth has felt her workspace sway from
    earthquakes and has had lightning punch a hole in her roof. She's
    come face to face with a bear and sometimes goes a week without
    seeing another person.
    Ashworth is a fire-tower lookout.
    And she wouldn't trade her job for anything.
    "I live in the sky. I live with the weather and the trees and
    the wildlife, from ladybugs to elk," she says from a tower a few
    miles southwest of Flagstaff, where she has worked for 21 years.
    "I have looked down on rainbows and seen them color the trees
    beyond - red, blue and yellow. And it's a job I can do in my
    slippers."
    Ashworth is one of about six dozen full-time fire lookouts in
    Arizona, staffing about 70 towers. Most live in cabins at the base
    of their towers, others drive to work in the morning and go home at
    night, like any urban commuter. They generally work eight-hour
    shifts, unless fires keep them watching longer. All are temporary
    employees, working through Arizona's fire season, generally from
    mid-May through mid-September, although the season varies from
    region to region.
    So far this year, wildfires have burned tens of thousands of
    acres in Arizona. The biggest single loss, almost 85,000 acres, was
    to the "Aspen" fire that roared to life last month and raged over
    Mount Lemmon, destroying more than 300 homes.
    "(Fire lookouts) without a doubt serve as our front line of
    defense against forest fires," says Joe Bill, president of a
    Scottsdale biotech firm, who profiled 18 lookouts in his book
    Climbing the Ladder Less Traveled (Mountain Forest Publishing,
    2002, $12.95). Despite the increased use of surveillance aircraft,
    lookouts remain the primary source of quickly spotting and
    pinpointing fires.
    When there's a fire going, "we feel like we're saving the
    day," says Shirley Payne, who staffs a tower on the Mogollon Rim.
    "To like what you're doing and feel like you're making a
    difference - what more could you want in a job?"
    Because Payne's tower is close to a well-traveled forest road,
    she gets more visitors than most lookouts; diplomacy is part of her
    job. She greets visitors (who are limited to 10-minute stays) and
    hands out bags of pencils, shoelaces, Smokey Bear stickers and
    other goodies to children. She answers the same questions, over and
    over: Doesn't she get lonely? Bored? Scared?
    No.
    Then comes the big question: Why would anyone want to work this
    job?
    Payne ticks off the reasons: the view. Lightning. Solitude. Time
    to read or work on her quilts.
    "Think of all I don't have to deal with," she says. "Thank
    God I'm not inside an office building."
    To Payne's list, Ashworth adds freedom, privacy and peace. She
    scoffs at the idea of being lonely.
    "It's a myth that lookouts are pining for company," she says.
    "(Besides), I'm in touch with 300 people on the radio."
    Job requirements include at least a high school education, the
    physical fitness to climb the towers (and hike - sometimes miles -
    to remote locations), the skills to work the fire finder and radio,
    and the visual acuity to see smoke and report the position
    accurately.
    Much of the job is routine. First thing every morning, Payne
    climbs the tower for a quick look around. If, like most mornings,
    there is nothing to report, she'll descend and make breakfast in
    her cabin, then go for a walk with her dog, Louie.
    Shortly before 8 a.m., she goes "in service," signing on the
    radio, filling out a log book with weather conditions and anything
    of interest, and radios in the local wind speed, direction and
    precipitation to her dispatcher in Flagstaff.
    Then she settles in for the morning, reading, quilting, relaying
    messages, greeting visitors, all the while keeping one eye on the
    carpet of forest that spreads for miles around her. She keeps a
    radio with her at all times, even during lunch and bathroom breaks.
    Sometimes she'll go a week without seeing smoke; once, three
    summers ago, she spotted 18 fires in one day.
    But the life of a lookout isn't for everyone.
    "It requires a person who can stand to be by themselves for
    hours or days on end. And a lot of people just can't do that,"
    says Bob Dyson, public information officer for Apache-Sitgreaves
    National Forest.
    Lookouts range in age from 20 to almost 80. Most last only two
    or three years, Dyson says, although a few seem to hang on forever.
    Many lookouts use the time to practice their musical skills.
    Ashworth tells of one who built a zither and another who had an
    electric piano carried up to her lookout.
    Ashworth puts her time in the tower to good use. She has written
    a history of Woody Mountain and two historical novels. She is
    working on her fourth book.
    "Everybody who stays any time at all (in this job) is probably
    happier by themselves than with a crowd," she says.
    While high-tech advances have replaced many traditional lookout
    positions like lighthouse keepers, officials don't expect
    technology to completely replace humans in the near future.
    "I don't know what kind of technology could replace human eyes
    and human intelligence or could spot smoke and tell from the color
    what it is doing. Lookouts do a lot of interpreting," says Karen
    Malis-Clark, public information officer for Coconino National
    Forest.
    "And it would be a sad day if there was ever any sort of robot
    that replaced lookouts. They're part of the forest tradition, a
    romantic kind of job - the solitary lookout."

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
    Proudly serving as the IACOJ Minister of Information & Propoganda!
    Be Safe! Lookouts-Awareness-Communications-Escape Routes-Safety Zones

    *Gathering Crust Since 1968*
    On the web at www.section2wildfire.com

300x600 Ad Unit (In-View)

Collapse

Upper 300x250

Collapse

Taboola

Collapse

Leader

Collapse
Working...
X