Following is Debo’s final lookout post for the year. Thank you, Debo, for sharing this extraordinary experience!
The sky was full of thick, grey clouds when I awoke this morning which was unexpected due to dire warnings of fiercely hot, dry conditions for today. I looked for the smoke from the Clayton Fire, but there was nothing to be seen on the grey landscape.
This morning, my main task was to pack up and clean the Lookout. My time on Baptiste was ending and I had to make way for the next volunteers who would take my place. While I worked, I listened to all of the activity on the radio. With so many fire starts yesterday, firefighters were getting an early start.
Although I watch the clouds and make predictions about weather like all lookouts have done throughout the decades, I also use modern tools as well. The radar application on my iPhone is an example. Using this app, I can track storm cells and see what might be heading my way. When I saw a streak of lightning to the west this morning, I pulled up the radar and saw that a storm cell was heading towards Baptiste. Knowing that the firefighters on the Clayton Fire would be exposed to lightning, I used the radio to call them up.
“Clayton IC, this is Baptiste Lookout on Work.”
“Come in Baptiste.”
“I was looking at the radar and I see a storm cell heading your way. It will probably hit you in 10-20 minutes.”
“Thanks for the information, Baptiste!”
As the storm cell passed over, we got rain and cloud-to-cloud lightning, but no more downstrikes. Towards the end, a brilliant rainbow appeared.
After giving the morning weather report on the radio at 10:00, I was ready to go.
“Kalispell Dispatch, Baptiste Lookout on Direct.”
“Come in Baptiste.”
“I’ll be hiking down today and Baptiste Lookout will be out-of-service for a few hours. My replacement is hiking up. Baptiste clear.”
“Copy that, Baptiste. Have a good hike out.”
As I was getting ready to hoist my backpack, I saw my replacements, Marly and Rick Davis hiking up the last stretch of trail. They had started early to avoid the heat and had made good time getting to the Lookout. We exchanged information and I showed them the Clayton Fire which was just starting to show smoke again. Then, I headed down the trail.
As I walked, I saw fat juicy huckleberries along the way and stopped a few times to eat them. I thought about my experiences with great satisfaction. I had been part of the fire team! The things that I had been nervous about last year seemed easy this year. There were new experiences this year……my first fire and reporting its azimuth on the radio and talking to the fire crew about the approaching storm cell. I learned a lot and felt like I am actually becoming an experienced lookout.
I never cease to be amazed by how well people work together under pressure to accomplish important things. This is a tough fire year with dry conditions and many fire starts. The precision and professionalism of everyone is impressive–dispatchers, pilots, firefighters, lookouts, and fire management leaders (FMOs and ICs)–all working together cooperatively and efficiently. Most of the fire starts have been put out quickly through early detection and early deployment of resources. I am pleased to be a part of the fire team….even if just for a short while.