Day 17 as a Volunteer Fire Lookout, September 13, 2017

By | September 16, 2017

Clouds, smoke and sunriseClouds, smoke, and sunrise collaborated in a masterful painting in the morning sky. 

When I awoke, my first awareness was of the wind beating furiously against the Lookout.  Some lookouts have reported that they find the sound of the wind disconcerting, but I love it.  Maybe its the fact that I descended from a group of hardy homesteaders in North Dakota where the wind never ceased or that I grew up in storm-prone Florida, but the wind is exciting to me and the rocking of the Lookout tower is soothing.  I slept soundly all night with the fury going on outside.

The winds are probably the reason that the Gibraltar Fire has moved two miles down the Whale Creek drainage…..still a long way from residences but very worrisome.  I reported 22-24 mph winds from the southwest this morning.

Morning clouds

The presence of clouds this morning made me wonder if the anticipated weather was already arriving, but the wind was still blowing from the southwest.  It was predicted that the winds would shift to the northeast by 1800 bringing rain into the area and snow by the following night.  This was what we are all hoping for in order to put a damper on the fires.

More clouds and a hope for rain

By late morning, patches of blue sky were visible and the sun shone through a patchwork of white, fluffy cumulus clouds. Visibility was finally clear enough to see the smoke from the Adair Fire.

Adair fire

Throughout the day the wind continued to batter the Lookout and more clouds filled the sky.  Fueled by wind, the Adair Fire was very active but not threatening due to the winds coming from the southwest.  The Gibraltar Fire did not send up a giant plume today and the finger of fire the Hd entered the Whale Creek drainage was minimally active backing down into upper Whale Creek about a mile from the end of the road and four miles from Ninko Cabin.  Approximately 18 people were working on fuels reduction and structure protection.  Whale Creek Road was closed at the Hornet junction.

I passed the afternoon reading, writing, practicing yoga, and watching fire activity.  Tension began to build in the late afternoon when forecasts about the amount of expected rain/snow started to decline.  If the wind direction changed to the northeast, there was some concern about the Adair Fire and Elder Creek Fire running toward residents. 

Afternoon walk

After evening check-in, I took a walk to enjoy the fall colors in the trail-side foliage.  Returning to the Lookout, I waited for the change in wind direction.

Watching the wind shift was an amazing experience.  After blowing hard from the southwest all day, at 1745 (5:45) the winds died and everything was suddenly calm.  Fifteen minutes later, the winds started blowing from the east. Fifteen minutes after that, the winds were blowing hard from the north. 

Wind changing on Adair fire

The smoke responded to the wind change.  The Adair Fire smoke, which had been steadily blowing north all day, started moving down the Logging Creek drainage and crossed the river by 1815. 

Wall of smoke approaching the LookoutAt the same time, the smoke from fires in the north filled the valley.  I watched in awe as a wall of smoke moved down the valley coming toward Cyclone Lookout.  All of my visibility to the north and east was completely gone by 1830 and my visibility to the south and west was soon lost as the smoke engulfed the Lookout.  It took an astounding 45 minutes for everything to completely change.

Breathing through my jacket collar

The strong north wind howled around the Lookout shaking the structure and sounding like a hurricane.  That’s why they call this place “Cyclone,” I reasoned.  The temperature dropped rapidly and the smoky air was hard to breathe.  I put the collar of my jacket over my mouth and breathed through it.  How easy it was to imagine a wall of wildfire coming towards me …….even though I knew that the fires were a long way away. 

According to Leif at Thoma Lookout, with the low temperatures, high humidity, and darkness coming, he didn’t anticipate much fire growth that night although there might be some isolated torching.

Setting sun through the smoke

The evening picture had to be taken from inside because the winds were too high to safety be on the catwalk.  Coal Ridge was not visible as the red sun sank behind it leaving me in a grey cocoon of smoke.  With the Lookout groaning and shaking and my throat feeling scratchy from the thick smoke, I crawled into my warm bed to read and fall asleep as the temperature in the Lookout continued to rapidly drop.  I did not want to start a fire in the wood stove with the high winds and dry conditions.  The winds rocked me to sleep in the arms of the Lookout.

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