2017 Day Two as a Volunteer Fire Lookout, Monday July 17

By | July 21, 2017

MorningAs the bright morning sun peaked up from behind the mountain peaks in Glacier National Park, the Lookout started to warm and this was the signal for me to get out of bed and start the morning chores.

Always a thrill is the morning weather reports from every Lookout at 1000.  Eleven lookouts reported weather this morning in our prescribed order:  Thoma, Numa, Cyclone, Huckleberry, Swiftcurrent, Loneman, Scalplock, Jumbo, Baptiste, Firefighter, and Cooney.  Each reported temperature, relative humidity, wind, cloud cover, precipitation, visibility, and lightning.  The fire weather forecast today indicated sunny skies and no precipitation for the next few days.  Although this forecast predicted slow days on the Lookout, I regularly checked all of the surrounding country with my binoculars looking for smoke.

Osborne Firefinder

The central tool in a Lookout is the Osborne Firefinder.  Standing In the middle of the Lookout, the Firefinder is ready for action should a smoke be sighted.  In that case, the lookout lines up the smoke with the vertical hair on the front sight.  The azimuth circle is graduated into 360 degrees with true north indicated by zero.  When a lookout reports an azimuth, it is the line from the Lookout to the fire reported by degrees from true north.  If another lookout can see the smoke, their azimuth is reported also.  Using the spot where the two azimuth lines intersect, the fire can be pinpointed on a map.  Using the pinpoint on the map, the lookout can report the smoke’s location in Township, Range, and Section and/or Latitude/Longitude.

Some might think that it is difficult to live in a 16′ x 16′ room full of windows high on a tower on top of a mountain, but this Lookout contains everything that a person needs to live and work.  Cyclone Lookout has a propane refrigerator and stove, wood stove for heat, radio powered by solar energy, a single bed, a desk, and cabinets filled with dishes, pans, and supplies.  This Lookout, like most in our region, has an assortment of dishes some of which are old Forest Service dishes from another era, as well as beautiful ceramic pottery handmade and donated by local potter, Heidi Haugen.  Below the Lookout is a tool shed.  The catwalk which encircles the Lookout provides an outdoor space to watch for fires through binoculars.  With 16 cubbies (5 gallons each) of water delivered by helicopter and stored in the tool shed, what more could someone need?

My desk

Cell phone service is excellent from here and there are plugs to recharge electronics off the solar panels.  The only thing missing is the Internet.  Although the Forest Service has asked the Border Patrol (who uses this tower to project its signal) for the password for the Internet here, permission has not come from the higher ups even though we have pledged to never share the secret password with anyone….ever.  Internet service would improve the efficiency of the work here, for example, downloading radar maps that track storm cells and receiving lightning maps to know exactly where downstrikes have occurred.  One of our jobs as lookouts is to monitor where lightning has occurred because these spots can burst into flame days after the actual down strike.

Hidden hat

Since it was such a slow day, I climbed down the 57 tower steps several times to search the hillside for my missing hat.  I eventually found it lying in the brush in plain sight camouflaged by its coloring.  I also took the time today to rid the outhouse of an old mouse nest and plenty of dust and dirt.

Although I was the first scheduled volunteer at Cyclone this season, Leif Haugen had spent about a week here during the Moose Creek Fire.  Even though the fire itself could not be seen from Cyclone, Leif helped with communications and logistics.  When I arrived at Cyclone, the Lookout was spotless, even the glass in the windows was crystal clear.  Leif had also replaced the floor and screen door last fall, so Cyclone is now as spiffy as Baptiste!  One exception is that Baptiste has a better library with books about Rocky Mountain fauna and flora, lookout life, and interesting pieces of fiction.  At Cyclone, one must bring their own reading materials.

My visitors this afternoon included two neighbors, Greg and Sue Evans, who were enjoying hiking on this relatively cool day.  After temperatures in the 90s for the past few weeks, an 80 degree day feels cool.

My supper tonight featured fresh stir-fried veggies from my garden.  I remembered my friends who had hauled food up with me on Sunday and saved me from tasteless meals out of boxes.


Taking a walk this evening, I noticed that the beargrass blooms are mostly past their prime.  This year has been a bonanza year for beargrass.  Every picture that I have viewed from every hike this year features a proliferation of bear grass.  It is a year to remember.

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