“We report to dispatch.. and they direct the fire people to the location.” Fire tower lookouts an important part of fire prevention in the Black Hills

EDGEMONT, S.D.– In many rural areas, residents struggle with limited to no cell service. And in a situation where fires occur, calling it in can be incredibly difficult.

Image From Ios 68That’s where lookouts come into play.

“On a good day, depending on which direction– of course we are not obstructed by mountains of hills or anything,” Lookout Paul Hoyer explained. “You could probably see about one hundred miles, sometimes, but the effective range for a lookout is about 20 miles.”

In the Black Hills National Forest, five lookout towers can be found with personnel on watch.

About 20 miles from Newcastle, WY, sits one of them.

The Elk Mountain Lookout Tower is one of the smallest operating towers in the Hell Canyon District. It sits 67 feet off of the ground, a mere seven-foot by seven-foot building.

Originally built in 1941, the tower has remained in use overlooking parts of Highway 16, the Jasper Fire scar, and more.

Perched up in the tower during the day is Paul Hoyer, a veteran lookout that has worked as far west as Northern California.

Hoyer has been assigned as lookout since early May and will be on duty through the beginning of October, looking for any signs of a blaze.

“Any signs of smoke, we have a fire finder which gives us the bearing and has a map on it and can give us the distance as well,” Hoyer said. “We also have additional maps that help, because using a fire finding map is not good enough. We report to dispatch and then they are the people that direct the fire people to the location.”

Smoke and dust can be difficult to distinguish for beginning lookouts, but the key difference is movement. Dust will move along its location while smoke tends to stay in one place.

One of the biggest things Hoyer has to be careful about is legal fires. As facilities like saw mills are in the area or the in the case of a prescribed burn.

“The only reason you know it’s a legal fire is because of the location.” he explained. “We know there is a saw mill in that location, or we know there is a campground and it is common to see campfires, or even the train here.”

And for people enjoying the hills, he recommends taking caution, such as completely extinguishing any campfires.

Categories: Into The Hills, Local News, South Dakota News, Wyoming News