Watching the Skies for Wildfires

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MEDFORD, Ore. — The Oregon Department of Forestry trains firefighters to spot the first signs of smoke or flames in wildfires. On Thursday, ODF staffed its lookout tower on Robinson Butte near Fish Lake and also worked on training people for the camera lookout systems.

ODF officials say there are benefits to manned lookouts as well as camera systems. The cameras allow one operator to view the skies on multiple mountains and can detect everything from dust, to clouds, to heavy smoke.

“If there are problems with the software we could end up with the wrong location whereas a trained lookout is going to know that the mountain has not moved since the last time they looked at it,” said ODF Dispatch Manager Matt Fumasi.

Rob DuBrey sits on Robinson Butte’s manned lookout. He works on a 10 days on four days off schedule. He knows the area so well that any smoke or difference in the sky is noticeable. He enjoys his time on the lookout despite being alone. “It’s not that I’m not social, it’s just I also don’t mind getting away from people I kind of like the solitude, the peace, the time for reflection. This is kind of nice,” he said.

Both lookouts work to get fire crews information, which is critical for the intense fire season ahead. “They’re going to want to know the color of the smoke the size of the column um the behavior um is the smoke laying over is it going straight up it’s going to indicate to them if there’s wind on it and they can expect increased fire behavior,” said Fumasi.