BEND, OR -- Fire lookouts are credited with catching several recent wildfires in Central Oregon before they grew out of control, but the smoky haze from southern Oregon and California fires is making their job more difficult.
Kassidy Kern, with the Deschutes National Forest, says lookouts can typically see 20 to 60 miles, depending on their position, "The visibility has been limited to, in some cases, five miles. And in some cases, it’s not at all limited and we’re in that 15-30 [mile] realm where maybe we would’ve been 20-60." She tells KBND News, "Obviously, that is compromised when we start to get smoke in. But, what they’re doing is, when they’re in that same spot all day, every day, they know when something changes."
Kern says there are several ways to detect new wildfires, including technology that predicts where lightning will strike and recon planes that fly over an area after a storm. But, the old-school way is often the most reliable, "We look at all the tools in the toolbox and one of our best tools still, and always, is going to be lookouts because the recon planes sometimes get grounded because of the smoke. Well, our lookouts are there all the time."
The lookout on Lava Butte is credited with spotting last month’s Bessie Butte fire, in southeast Bend
, "The lookout called the firefighters first and then he called dispatch and that gave them three to five extra minutes to get mobilized and going before they even got the order," says Kern, "When you have a fire that is close enough to Bend that it’s going to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, those minutes are really critical."
There are seven federal lookouts in the Deschutes National Forest, "You really cannot look at what they do on the ground and over-sell the importance of that. It is critical."
Photo: Green Ridge Lookout, as photographed by Fred Fost