For many, there is something romantic about the possibility of working as a fire lookout. Maybe it’s because famous writers like Jack Kerouac, Edward Abby and Gary Snyder all worked seasons as a lookout. But it is more than romantic; it is a extremely important job that takes dedication and hard work.
Yellowstone’s fire lookouts spend the summer living alone, watching for signs of fire with every passing storm. From first light until well into the evening, lookouts keep a constant watch over the park. It is a job that doesn’t come with a time clock.
Fire lookouts can be stationed on Mt. Washburn, Mt. Sheridan or Mt. Holmes. They work in one room cabins that have windows all the way around, which allows for a 360 degree view. Due to the mountain top locations, cabins are well equipped with lightning-rods. National Park Service personnel help with restocking food, water and supplies every two weeks.
When smoke is detected, the lookout will take an azimuth or compass bearing in the direction of the smoke. If 2 lookouts can get an azimuth on the same fire, the exact location of the fire is where their lines intersect on a map. When a fire ignites, aircraft or ground monitors are sent to the area to investigate. Monitors measure temperature, precipitation, relative humidity, dew point, winds and fuel moisture.
Yellowstone’s Fire Dispatch Office evaluates each fire separately to determine if that fire should be suppressed or allowed to burn. All human caused fires are suppressed.
While the job can be a lonely one, lookouts are rewarded with a birds-eye view of the park. Yellowstone’s fire lookouts are always on call: waiting, watching and wondering if that storm in the distance will ignite the next big fire.