Monday, June 22, 2009
Forest Fire Control
We did a lot of other things while at the Grand Canyon besides staring into the great abyss and wondering how it could possibly have gotten there. One day we decided to get off the beaten track and drove up a dirt road stopping to take pictures of wildflowers along the way. Soon we noticed that controlled burns were taking place along this road.
There were small fires everywhere but no sign of the workmen who started them and we wondered how they could keep the flames from getting out of hand. Then we noticed that they were burning neat little circles under every tree, essentially eliminating the brush under the trees that might cause the whole tree to burn if there were a large fire.
Finally we came upon this structure called Grandview Lookout. It's a fire tower. We were invited to "come on up" as long as there were only four people in our party. Well, my DIL has a fear of heights and so she declined and I wasn't too sure myself that I wanted to climb up this thing. It had been very windy during our entire stay at the canyon and this day was no exception. But at my son's urging, I decided to go ahead and do it, telling myself to look up, not down. Nick joined us.
We climbed very slowly and carefully. At the top, we went through a trap door into a small square room where every inch of space had been used to store maps and equipment, even the ceiling. Here we met the volunteer who mans the tower eight to ten hours a day for six months of the year, being spelled only once in awhile by his wife. His job is to keep an eye out for forest fires and to let the workmen on the ground know if any of their controlled burns are getting "hot." The small fires that had been started on purpose were burning with a white smoke. Black smoke would indicate that the fire had too much fuel and was burning too fast.
The fire in the photo below, which we could easily see from the tower, had been started by a lightning strike, but was now under control. The black smoke prompted the volunteer to call the ground crew with his radio telephone and warn them. He said that most of the time they reply back that they know all about it and everything is alright.
He then showed us this Osborne Fire Finder which he uses to pinpoint the location of a fire for the ground crew. It occupied the center of the room and took up most of the space.
After admiring the view in all directions (the top of the tower is at 7611 ft.), we thanked the volunteer for the "tour" and climbed back down just as slowly as we went up. The volunteer says he has gotten used to the climb but when there is a lightning storm nearby, he flies down!