Saturday, June 8, 2013

Change of Pace–and Location

Unlike my last days off, that were cut in half due to fire priorities, I actually got a chance to enjoy my full four days off in a row this time.

However, I did get a phone call from ‘management’ advising me that because it was so quiet (and damp), they had decided to close down my fire base for a few days.  All the crews were either on days off, or ‘exported’ to other areas where there was more fire hazard.  But they asked me if I was interested in filling in for a week in a fire tower in another region.  After ironing out a few details, and ensuring that my furry sidekick could come along, I said, “Sure”!

After packing up all of our gear on Saturday, Sunday found us on the road from Rocky Mountain House northward.  After a quick stop to visit RV friends Driving Miss Donna in Stony Plain, and stocking up on groceries near Edmonton, we continued on to the north east. Late in the afternoon found us checking in at the Forestry office in Lac La Biche, to get directions, radio frequencies and contact information for the lookout I was headed to.  Another two hours of driving along increasingly  rough and winding bush roads, got us to the lookout in time for a short orientation and tour from the acting lookout.  Coincidentally, it turns out that both the regular tower gal, and the alternate were classmates from my lookout observer class in April!


Once Hailey discovered her food dishes and bed in the cabin, she was happy to move in and enjoy the new scenery.  I placed her bed in front of the window, which immediately became her place to hang out – and have the occasional nap!


In the boreal forest, you can’t see much but trees – unless you have a tower – so I was keen the next morning to get up there and take in the surroundings.





Turns out, there is a gravel pit, a pipeline compressor station, and an electrical substation all nearby – surrounded by hundreds of square kilometers of mostly uninhabited bush land.

Actual shifts in the lookout vary a lot, depending on the fire hazard rating at the time.  It can vary from occasional observations in low hazard to continuously being on watch for 11 hours at a time.  I got to experience most of that range while I was there.  While no large fires were spotted by any of the lookouts while I was working, there were quite a few small ones located and put out, and a lightning storm passing through that may still provide some action in the days to come.  Alberta takes their fire control seriously, and in times of high hazard there are crews and helicopters parked at strategic locations all over the region, often ready to respond in 5 minutes or less.  Other times, a fully equipped fire fighting crew flies around in various areas either not well covered from towers, or on the path of recent lightning strikes.  It’s expensive, but if a fire can be found and extinguished while it is small, it can result in a savings of many millions of dollars.  I directed one such flight in to check on a possible smoke, but it turned out to be dust from vehicles on a road that was not on my map!

We had a visitor early one morning.  A small black bear showed up to enjoy some of the dandelion crop growing in the yard.


When Hailey saw it, she growled, and thinks she scared it away.


This lookout is 100’ high.  Some are taller at 120’, and there are shorter ones as well.  Of course, in the mountainous areas, some lookouts have no towers at all, because they are on top of the mountain!


There are a few small lakes in the area…


And some old trappers cabins.


I was pleased to find excellent cell coverage from up in the tower with both Rogers and Telus, so the new iPhone 5 got put through it’s paces.  All the lookouts have radio communications, telephones (either cellular or satellite), and many at least in my home region, have internet access as well.  This one does not have any internet, other than my phone, so this post will have to wait till I get back to some civilization.


Who knows where I’ll be or what I will be up to next week!