Friday, September 08, 2017

From one Lookout to another! More forest Fires.

It was early September, and the decision was made to close down the fire lookout tower I was at north of Peace River, Alberta.  It was the same lookout we closed down three years ago (see that old post here), but that time there had been several inches of snow on the ground prior to closing, and the water barrels had to be thawed out before they could be drained and stored.  This time it was much more civilized, and quite warm, with a fair bit of fire hazard still remaining in the area.  Regardless, Hailey and I packed our gear and were soon on the helicopter flight back to Peace River.


Unloading gear at Peace River.


Hailey was glad to get back into the truck camper to begin our trek home and resume relaxing retirement.  After a bit of fast food and some fuel in town, and we were on our way south!


Alas, our freedom was shortlived Sad smile.  We weren’t even half way back when a call to head office revealed that they had ‘plans’ for me, and soon.  One of the more southern lookouts that had not been staffed for the last couple of years was now situated in the middle of a fire ‘hot zone’, and with the long weekend on the way, there was likely to be action.

So we stocked up on groceries again in Drayton Valley, and made the long drive back to the fire camp where I had spent the last four seasons.  In the morning, we hopped back in a helicopter to be dropped off at possibly one of the most scenic lookouts in the province!  Unlike the long climb up a ladder to the tiny cupola on top of a fire tower, this lookout is just a one room cabin on top of a mountain with windows all around to spot smoke.


RV boondockers, check out this solar array! Eight panels at 110w each.  Heater and stove are gas, but the big fridge runs off the solar power.  There are six huge 12v batteries and an inverter is supposed to supply some 110v to the cabin for lights and small appliances.  It was u/s, so I rigged up the small Honda generator for a bit of AC power on occasion.  With the inverter replaced, the generator would not be used at all.


Nearby, there is a multi-agency repeater site that has 27 of these 110w panels!


We were soon settled in …  One sleeping off the ‘helicopter lag’, the other dutifully watching for smoke.



It wasn’t long before the ongoing fire across the lake made it’s presence known.


Unfortunately, it was only one of several in the area at the time, with more to come.

The view from the kitchen window was not too hard to take!


If you like this view, check this link for a 360 degree photosphere I uploaded from the same location.  Or, click here for one I did on the far shore of the lake a couple of years ago.  From that view, the lookout is on top of the cliff bands directly across the lake.

The far shore of the lake is a scenic and popular boondocking area, and the weather on the long weekend was perfect so the many varied spots were packed with campers.


At night their many lights and camp fires were twinkling from across the lake.  At the end of the lake near the Bighorn dam, there is an area that permits ATV’s, but thankfully none are allowed along this part of the lake.  The downside of so many campers was immediately evident to me when any internet I could locate was inconsistent and way slower than dial-up.  Once all the campers left, the service is fine.

I heard on my radio scanner one day that there had been a motor vehicle accident along the lake – with a vehicle down a steep embankment.  This is a very isolated area, and I knew that it could easily be 3/4 of an hour before any emergency vehicles arrived.  My attempts to locate the accident scene with binoculars were soon ended when I spotted a nice plume of smoke coming up at the far end of the lake!  I quickly took a bearing and estimated distance and radioed it in.  As luck would have it, we had two helicopters sitting at a fuel cache right across the lake from the lookout.  Within minutes, both were at the scene.  It soon became clear that the accident I had been searching for was actually the cause of the fire and smoke I had seen!  One machine immediately began bucketing out of the lake and the second landed on scene to check on the occupants of the vehicle and ensure they managed to escape the fire and the water being dropped from above.  With the addition of an initial attack crew that arrived shortly after, the fire was soon extinguished, and local fire, police and ems were also in attendance by that time.

Next day, another small fire across the lake was spotted by one of our helicopters flying over, even before I was able to see it from the lookout. It’s cause is under investigation, but was quickly put out before it could grow.

When Hailey isn’t outside keeping the local wildlife wild, she likes to spend time in some of the empty cupboards above the wrap-around windows in the cabin.


Either that, or in the softest chairs!


One thing about being in a lookout – is that aircraft are often below you!  This machine was just cruising by.



Well that’s about it from our little ‘house on the hill’.  Should be out of here in a few days, and back in retirement mode.  It will soon be time to take off the truck camper and get the 5th wheel warmed up for the southern migration.