What it’s like looking out for fires, perched up high in the Los Padres National Forest

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Two-thirds of America’s firefighters are volunteers, according to a study by the National Fire Protection Association. One of them is Myke Dodge Weiskopf, who produces podcasts at KCRW. He volunteers not as a firefighter, but a fire lookout. About once a month, he spends the day perched high up in the Los Padres National Forest, looking for telltale signs of fire.

“We have a 360 degree from up there and it is fairly remote. There’s no running water, there’s no electricity, there’s no air conditioning, there’s no cell phone service, there’s no landline telephone, there’s no internet connectivity,” says Myke Dodge Weiskopf. “The only way to reach anyone up there is by two-way radio, which is how we communicate with the fire service and CalFire and the associated divisions that work on the radio.”

He says that on his day of duty, he spotted three fires. “When they talk about trial by fire, I know quite literally what that means,” he adds. 

Weiskopf explains that the dispatch call involves several things. “We call in the location, the bearing, the distance from the lookout, and then also a description of the smoke itself — so how big it is, what type it is — and then also the color because that can help us determine what is on fire.” 

He says being a fire lookout is a sort of calling, even though he didn’t plan on becoming on. “But it has become part of my spiritual practice,” he adds.