See which schools and businesses are closed due to poor air quality

Volunteer Lookouts Play Key Role in Fighting Fires

DOBBINS -- With fire danger high in California and lightning in the Sierra forecast this weekend, Cal Fire's volunteer lookouts play an increasingly important role in firefighting.

FOX40 visited the Oregon Peak lookout tower Wednesday afternoon near Dobbins in Yuba County, one of several such towers in the Sierra foothills where Volunteers in Prevention are constantly watching for any sign of smoke.

"We are the first line of defense when it comes to spotting fires," explained Mary Battista, volunteer coordinator for the Oregon Peak tower.

In some parts of the state, cameras have replaced the watchful human eyes. But throughout the foothills, Cal Fire's Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit depends on the skilled volunteers watching from lookout towers.

When they see smoke, they use mapping instruments to identify the location of the plume. Then they quickly alert the nearest fire station via two-way radio.

Through cross-coordination with other nearby towers, the volunteers are able to confirm the coordinates of a fire.

They also track the location of lightning.

"Lightning strikes can start a fire days later," Battista said. "So it's always good to have the bearings on the hits."

With the help of the VIPs, several fires this season already have been spotted and extinguished.

"You're watching out for somebody's property," volunteer Don Mays said of the rewards of the service. "If you can spot the smoke and get it called in, you could be saving lives. You definitely save property."

Cal Fire is seeking additional community members to volunteer for a few hours per week in a lookout tower. Interested adults who have no problem with heights are encouraged to contact their nearest Cal Fire station.