Why Volunteering for a Fire Lookout is Still a Good Thing

When I was a kid growing up on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, we could hike to a pair of fire lookouts nearby. We were always greeted by a friendly ranger who would gladly give us a tour and show us how he used the various maps and gadgets to pinpoint a fire location. I think he got a little bit lonely up there too.

Being a fire lookout was one of my dream jobs back then. But most people don’t realize that the majority of fire lookouts in use today are staffed solely by volunteers who don’t have forestry degrees. As a matter of fact, almost anyone can spend the day at the helm after a short basic training.

RELATED: How to Survive a Wildfire in the Backcountry

Being a fire lookout is a service to our forests, their inhabitants and the many visitors who come to experience the outdoors during the peak fire season. Plus, you can’t buy a better view.

Another benefit to the job is that you become completely immersed in nature. Have you ever spent eight hours sitting in one spot outdoors? Hunters know the experience well and there’s nothing like it in my book. The longer you sit observing, the more heightened your senses become. You start to see the subtle movement of the natural world and its many patterns. People often describe it as a “Zen-like” experience — an all-day meditation.

July and August are typically the months when staff is needed the most. Although there are a lot of folks who sign up, volunteers are always needed and always appreciated. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (better known as CAL-FIRE), relies on the visual aid that these fire lookouts create. Spotting and pinpointing a fire, especially in remote locations has helped save countless acres of forest.

RELATED: What it Looks Like to Drive Through a Raging Enferno

Typical shifts start at 10 am and last until 6 pm. Depending on conditions and fire danger, shift hours may change. Either way, it’s a nice way to spend the day. You’ll want to bring lunch and snacks.You’ll probably have to bring your own water so make sure and bring plenty. Some lookouts are better equipped than others and each county is different. The experience is more than worth it and most volunteers can’t wait to return to their “Post.”

If you are interested in volunteering, contact the fire protection agency in your state or try the local fire agency. You can also contact the US Forest Service or National Parks Service for information. It’s well worth it and we need all the help we can get this year.

Two great resources to check out are FireLookout.org and USAJobs.org.

Photo credit: Flickr CC