Jim Fowler retired a year and a half ago. Today his commute goes 30 feet into the air and his office has a 360 degree view.
He and his wife, Marcia are part of a group of dedicated volunteers that are simultaneously working to preserve the San Bernardino National Forest – and a piece of history.
They serve as Fire Lookout Hosts. While the most important part of their work is spotting, locating and reporting smoke and fire, they also take detailed weather observations and maintain the seven fire lookouts that still exist in Southern California.
Jim says it feels good.
“I don’t want to see fires but if I do see a fire, I want to be able to stop it. So yeah, I do feel very proud. If I can find a fire before it goes too far, I feel like I’ve accomplished something”.
From the 1930s to the 1970s there were over 600 fire lookouts in California, but due to urbanization, upgrades in technology, fire and vandalism most of them are gone now.
We caught up with Jim, Marcia and their team one Saturday in early July to have a look from Strawberry Peak about 20 miles northeast of San Bernardino.
The original tower was built in 1922 but had to be replaced when it was destroyed by lightning and heavy snow in 1934. Since then, this 30-foot structure has been active as both a lookout and visitors center.
Stacy Gorin is the Executive Director for the Southern California Mountains Foundation. She says this work is vital.
“There are fires here every single year and I think it just was last year we had eleven first reports from our towers so we’re very proud of the work our volunteers do and the training that they do and their dedication to the program”.
While we were there smoke broke out on the horizon. Within moments, the team had the location, wind direction and coordinates nailed down and reported.
As summer heats up, humidity drops down and 4th of July fireworks are being prepped, the importance of this work becomes even more essential.
But they can’t do it alone – the Southern California Mountains Foundation is a non-profit that relies heavily on volunteers and donors. If you’d like more information on how you can help out go to mountainsfoundation.org