ODF fire lookouts watch for lightning and thunderstorms

, Posted: Mon, July 21 2014 at 6:15 PM, Updated: Wed, July 23 2014 at 4:48 PM

Soda Mountain, Ore. -- The threat for thunderstorms has fire crews across Southern Oregon relying on lookouts in remote areas.

They're perched in higher elevations to report any lightning-caused fires to crews as soon as they start.

It was a serene afternoon up at the Soda Mountain Lookout located just off Highway 66 near the Oregon-California and Klamath County borders.

"I like being up here," began Laura Glasscock, a Fire Lookout for the Oregon Department of Forestry.

"What I'm looking for is signs of fire," she said.

After 14 years of being on the job, Glasscock knows how fast conditions can change.

"Those clouds could take off and start building up really fast," said Glasscock as she looked into the distance.

"If they start building into towers then that's when you get the potential for lightning," she continued.

With the potential for lightning, comes the potential for fire. Last year nearly 100-thousand acres in Southern Oregon burned. Most of the fires were caused by lightning.

The unpredictable nature of lightning is also a concern for ODF firefighters who rely on the information lookouts like Glasscock give them.

"A lookout like this is invaluable. They're giving us all kinds of information," said Derick Price, a forest officer with ODF who fights fires on the front lines.

"Lookouts are often the first ones to ID a lightning strike that is causing a fire and ID where it is," said Glasscock.

According to Price, the Soda Mountain Lookout is one of four staffed lookouts in the Medford Unit. He said staff at the Central Point office also keep tabs on a camera located in the Applegate.

As of Monday afternoon, the horizon looked clear to Glasscock. However she will eat, breathe and sleep up at the Soda Mountain Fire Lookout, watching and waiting for the next lightning bolt to strike.

ODF also has a fairly accurate lightning tracker as well, but Glasscock said it doesn't always register every lightning strike. That's where lookouts like her play an important role in preventing and limiting the spread of forest fires.

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