2017 Day Five as a Volunteer Fire Lookout, Friday, July 21

By | July 24, 2017

2017 Cyclone Lookout Day 5 | photo by Debo PowersAs the bright summer sun rises over the eastern mountains in Glacier National Park and warms up the North Fork valley, I stand in this house of windows gazing at the landscape below.  It is another bright day with small cumulus clouds dotting the sky.

Solar-powered radio | photo by Debo Powers

As the morning sun pours into the Lookout, thebroadcasts the news on Montana Public Radio.  I keep moving the radio in order to gather more solar energy.

There are at least 50 large wildfires in the US today.  Firefighters risk their lives to battle these fires as they attempt to protect homes and other resources.  A Montana firefighter, who was a Montana State University student, lost his life yesterday when a burning snag fell on him at the Seelly Lake Fire.  All of us grieve for the life of this young honor student.

2017 Cyclone Lookout Day 5 | photo by Debo Powers

Today’s fire conditions have decreased since yesterday with lower winds, higher humidity, and no lightning forecasted.  Hot, dry conditions are predicted to continue into the weekend which leaves all of us on Lookouts very vigilant.  Every hour, I go out on the catwalk and scan the landscape with binoculars.

Margaret comes to visit | photo by Debo Powers

I was really pleased when my good friend and closest neighbor, Margaret, showed up with her dog, Sadie.  Margaret and her husband, Mark, have climbed, hiked, and run so many of the trails and peaks in the North Fork that we had fun pointing out different spots and telling stories about things that had happened.  Her visit livened up my otherwise quiet morning.

Bridget brought these | photo by Debo Powers

In the afternoon, my friend and neighbor, Bridget, hiked up to Cyclone bringing goodies…. apricots, peaches, corn, and some homemade chicken veggie soup.  Bridget is interested in joining the volunteer lookout team and this was her second trip to Cyclone since I have been here.  Last year, she hiked into Baptiste Lookout for an overnight stay while I was working there.

After evening check-in, Bridget and I hiked down the trail to the two huckleberry sites that are part of a Citizen Science Project with Dr. Tabitha Graves from USGS.  Her multi-year study of huckleberries involves coordinating volunteers who set up research sites and gather data. The North Fork Huckleberry Team, sponsored by the North Fork Preservation Association, has three sites (one on Whale Creek and two on Cyclone) that are monitored weekly during the growing season.  I counted huckleberries while Bridget recorded the data.  Our reward was eating handfuls of huckleberries outside of the research sites.  When we finished our data collection, Bridget hiked back to her car while I returned to Cyclone Lookout.

Wurtz fire | photo by Debo Powers

Excitement picked up in the evening when a fire was reported near Wurtz cabin.  I immediately saw the smoke and took an azimuth reading on the Firefinder–346 degrees.  I called Numa Lookout on the phone and the call didn’t go through.  I texted Thoma Lookout and the text didn’t go through either.  At that point, I should have gotten on the radio on the Work channel and contacted Thoma Lookout with my azimuth.  However, Thoma called me to get my azimuth and gave me the ones from Thoma and Numa.  The intersection of the three azimuth readings indicated that the fire was near the airstrip close to the river.  A helicopter, a Forest Service engine (crew on loan from New Mexico), and an engine from the Blankenship Fire Department were sent to the site.

The fire was burning in a pile of logs on a gravel bar.  Helicopter “6 Papa Juliet” started dumping buckets of water until the engines arrived and took over.  It was quickly under control although firefighters planned to stay overnight with Lookouts providing communications from 2300 to 0700.  The fire was definitely human caused and an investigator was requested.  The Wurtz Incident Commander (IC) reported that they had pictures and local intel on who started the fire.

Sunset | photo by Debo Powers

I went to sleep after Dispatch signed off at 2330 knowing that I was on call for communications if needed.

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