2017 Day Eight as a Volunteer Fire Lookout, Monday, July 24

By | July 28, 2017

2017 Cyclone Lookout | photo by Debo PowersMontana is dealing with more wildfires than any other state right now. Resources are stretched to combat these fires as the weather continues to be sunny and hot and fuels continue to dry out.  Today is a critical fire day due to low humidity and gusty winds.  The Haines Index is 5 today (on a scale from 1 to 6). This indicates the potential for rapid fire growth due to dry and unstable atmospheric conditions.

Paid lookouts generally work for ten days followed by four days off.  However, with the current fire danger, most lookouts are only getting one day off….just enough time to shop and pack food for another hitch.  I haven’t heard any complaints because most lookouts prefer to spend as much time as possible in their Lookouts and when the fire danger is high, they want to be watching for fires.  They are just that dedicated.

Often in the mornings after the weather reports from each lookout, I engage in yoga practice.  The gentle stretches loosen my body and focus my attention so that I can stay more alert while on the job ……especially on a day like today when we haven’t had lightning and nothing seems to be happening.

Wild Rockies Institute | photo by Debo Powers

Things started happening around noon when college students from around the country participating in the Wild Rockies Institute showed up.  These young people had been studying transboundary issues and had just returned from hiking and backpacking in Canada.  After viewing some extractive projects (a coal mine and forest clear cuts) with Wildsight (a Canadian conservation group), they read an article about the North Fork Watershed Protection Act and wanted to discuss local activities to protect the North Fork on this side of the border.  Their leaders had contacted me several weeks ago to ask if I would speak with them as I had with last summer’s group.  They were pleased to combine a hike with the meeting.

Taking the Lookout radio and phone with me, I held class below the Lookout.  They asked insightful and informed questions and took notes.  Following our discussion, I divided the group in half and gave each group a tour of the Lookout and explained what we do.  They enthusiastically asked questions about becoming lookouts.  Being with this group of young people with their eager minds was very inspiring and gave me hope for our future.

After the students left in early afternoon, the rest of the day was uneventful.  The wind continued to howl as temperatures rose and all lookouts were on high alert.  I paced the catwalk looking for smoke……sometimes using binoculars, sometimes without.  On a day like this, a fire could build fast and move rapidly……but nothing happened to break the monotony of a peaceful afternoon.  Although the wind brought some clouds, they were too high to drop any moisture on the parched earth.  My brother sent me a message from Florida wishing for us a long, gentle soaking rain upon the land.  I doubted that wish would come true anytime soon.

Clear skies are supposed to be the ultimate in good weather, but I prefer a sky with more variety.  Clouds, in all their varied forms, bring more texture to the sky.  They give the light something to bounce around on.  There have not been many clouds during my hitch at Cyclone until this afternoon.  The setting sun and the clouds painted the sky in brilliance.

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