A fire lookout typically monitors a fire-prone area of land from a tall watchtower to avert potential disasters. If she notices smoke or flames, she immediately identifies the location of the blaze and contacts firefighters stationed nearby. The fire lookout also records information about weather and wind patterns to help firefighters plan emergency response procedures. Lookouts often work year-round in many different settings, including national parks, forests, remote mountain ranges, and wildlife reserves. During times of peak danger, it is common for a crew of fire lookouts to work around the clock in shifts.
The primary goal of a fire lookout is to prevent wildfires by identifying hazards and preparing for action. Stationed in a watchtower, the fire lookout can observe a large area of land with the aid of binoculars and surveillance cameras. She usually has access to the Internet and weather-monitoring equipment so that she can recognize potentially dangerous conditions. If she notices campers practicing unsafe activities, such as leaving a campfire burning unattended, she can speak with offenders in person or notify forest rangers. The lookout also takes preventive measures by recommending that a certain number of firefighters and equipment be available at base camps during fire seasons.
If smoke is spotted, the fire lookout quickly relays information to headquarters using cell phones or two-way radios. She uses landmarks, the sun's angle to the horizon, and global positioning system software to inform firefighters of the exact location of a blaze. While emergency response crews make their way to the fire, the lookout tracks changes in wind and watches the movement of flames. For a fire that spread wildly, she may request that airplanes fly over to dump extinguishing liquid or foam.
The fire lookout remains a key member of the emergency response team until the blaze is gone. She provides weather updates, records the progress of fire crews, and speaks with the media to keep the public informed. After a fire is extinguished, the fire lookout surveys the damage and carefully watches the charred land for several days to ensure that it does not reignite.
Individuals do not need extensive education or training to become fire lookouts in most settings. Some professionals decide to pursue two- or four-year degrees in fire science, geology, or environmental science to better prepare for the job. New workers learn about the different types of monitoring equipment and emergency procedures by assisting experienced lookouts. Many fire lookouts are trained firefighters as well, and can actively help out in the event of a widespread blaze. In areas of wilderness where government funding for fire prevention is low or unavailable, concerned people often volunteer to work as lookouts.