Monday, May 9, 2011

Call mountain lookout 2

Call Mountain Lookout

I found this and one other photo taken of Call Mountain Lookout in Central California at the above site. It says it is a 3888 feet in elevation. I worked here as one of the lookouts during the 1980s. Working then for CDF was wonderful because there was free medical care for my whole family through the state which included medical, dental and eyes. Though I also owned two businesses at the time since it was only 6 months a year as a lookout (usually around April to October) since I had a wife 3 kids 11 to 14 at the time free medical care couldn't be beat at the time. We broke the week into two segments and there were two lookouts on the job, each one there for 1/2 of the week. While there we were on duty from 7 am to 7pm and on standby from 7pm to 7am.  Besides reporting fires using a 360 degree directional and a range finder, we also reported lightning strikes during storms. We kept in contact with headquarters other lookouts in the area and fire engines through our two way radio or a telephone. Another of our jobs was to give weather reports that reported on wind speed and how dry the tinder was at that altitude and area. We measured how dry it was by weighing a special stick that we would weigh to see how dry it was by moisture content that could be ascertained by the varying weight of the stick.

I believe it was at Chalone Peak where one of the other fire lookout people got struck by lightning. There were special insulated platforms we were supposed to stand upon within the lookout when lightning was striking where we were. She was knocked unconscious by a strike and had to be evacuated in an ambulance during that time. Though I received many lightning strikes during that storm to my tower as well my insulated platform kept me safe during those strikes. During that time there were many many lightning strikes that had to be reported that struck all around the area. However, sometimes in the fog you could only hear the strikes and the direction and couldn't see them at all. It could get pretty deafening at that altitude with lightning striking all around for sometimes minutes to hours at a time.

As a lookout one slowly learned that brown smoke usually meant foliage burning, white smoke usually meant it was on its way out and black smoke usually meant a house, building  or car was on fire. The hardest thing to distinguish usually was between a controlled burn and a real fire that needed to be put out.

There were windows all around in 360 degrees with storm windows one could close in case winds got above 40 to 60 mph so the wind wouldn't break the glass in a wind. So one always had to watch the wind speeds so one of the windows didn't blow out. There were herds of deer and wild boar there as well. And if one was going down the stairs to the out door john one always had to watch out for boars as they might attack you and we were not allowed weapons to protect ourselves because of incidents of previous fire lookouts hunting boar rather than doing their jobs. So, this was another danger in addition to being about 10 miles from the nearest human being in an emergency. So all of us lookouts tended to be very very self sufficient people who were capable of handling almost any emergency. And sometimes situations tested us all to the limit much like working at a lighthouse on the ocean would.

On one occasion I was driving my VW Rabbit to work instead of my 4wd 1974 International Harvester Scout II to save gas because it wasn't raining or hailing or anything like that. It was night time and as I opened the next gate (It is ranch land with cattle there) I heard something so quickly got back into my car and started driving. But then something hit my car so hard it threw my car  into the ditch next to the dirt road. So, even though most people would have stopped I kept on going because I had no weapons allowed to defend myself other than my car as a weapon. So, I kept going and wasn't hit again all the way to my lookout. As I went off duty several days later, I found the corpse of the mama Boar almost as big as the rabbit and probably equal in weight to my car. When she had bit the front bumper of my car to kill it, it had ripped her lower jaw off. I then saw her 300 pound half grown babies nearby. However, I thought they might be okay because they were so large already. I'm really glad I didn't stop driving coming on duty because if I had got out she could have killed me since I didn't have a pistol or rifle with me because weapons weren't allowed unless you wanted to get fired from the job.

I think it was around 1990 that they decided to close down all the remaining CDF Lookouts that were open and use satellite information instead. Closing down the lookouts likely saved a bit of money but likely increased unreported fires a bit as well. So, it is hard to say in the end if closing lookouts was a good idea or not. I think the US Forest Service Fire Lookouts are all volunteer now and none of them are paid positions now. However, I look back with fond memories of the lookout there and sometimes my kids would come on duty with me during the summer and play all around the area there. My oldest stepson is now a CDF Fire Captain. And my other two older kids are a lawyer and a nurse.

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