National Geographic : 1946 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine employed each summer. Stationed in stra tegic places, they watch for smokes and re port them to the district ranger or to his as sistant known as the fire dispatcher. When in the summer of 1943 I first became one of these forest guards, I entered upon a life entirely new to me. Before being taken to my station, I, along with other lookouts and with the fire-suppression crew (about 35 in all), received four days of intensive instruc tion at the ranger station of our district. Our instructors were the ranger, his local assistants, and officials from Columbia National Forest headquarters in Vancouver, Washington. We learned how to meet the public as rep resentatives of the Forest Service; how to operate a portable two-way radio; how to re place batteries and a burned-out fuse in a telephone; how to use and care for tools; how to read a compass; how to detect and locate smokes; how to read section maps; and how to use the firefinder, the lookout's chief tool. In the women's class, made up equally of teachers and of local girls just out of high school, the last two items received most at tention. We were to be the lookouts, and lookouts must locate fires quickly on the fire finder map. We were taken into the forest and taught how to extinguish small fires, should one break out near our station (Plate VIII). Boys Help Clear Trails The fire-suppression crew, made up of 16 and 17-year-old boys and their adult leaders, most of whom had been clearing trails for several days before we women arrived, re ceived much of the instruction we were given. In addition, they had half days of perspiring field work, learning the most effective method of fire fighting-the "one lick" method (p. 94). I received individual instruction in reading and reporting the weather, for I was to operate a weather station as well as two lookouts about one-third of a mile apart. These days of training, though long and fatiguing, were intensely interesting. Even though I have already forgotten the difference between a mattock and a Pulaski (page 95), I learned some things of permanent value. As long as I teach, I want to remember one incident: Our instructor had been explaining a mathematical problem connected with the orienting of the firefinder, and had ended with the familiar words: "Are there any ques tions?" After a short silence I frankly ad mitted, "I don't understand it well enough to ask an intelligent question." Sighs of relief from the girls on the bench behind assured me that I spoke for them also, and made me again aware that youth is often unwilling to admit ignorance \n the presence of others. It was inspiring, in the general assemblies, to feel the enthusiasm which the men of the Forest Service have for their work, to realize the professional pride which they take in be ing members of a national organization dedi cated to the principle of "the most productive use for the permanent good of the whole peo ple," "the greatest good of the greatest num ber of people in the long run." Alone on Flattop Mountain After these four days of Fire School, the district ranger and two boys accompanied me to my summer home on Flattop Mountain. They helped me unpack my car, split a pile of wood for me, showed me how to pump and light a gasoline lantern, put new batteries in the flashlight and in the three telephones (one in my living quarters and one beside each firefinder), and oriented both my firefinders. By pointing out and naming some of the peaks and other conspicuous landmarks, the ranger started me upon my first major task getting acquainted with the vast area I looked out upon. I include these details here because some people, even this summer when they knew that I was to be eight miles from a road, have assumed that I found my own way to my station and started this strange life in a strange world without any assistance. At Flattop Lookout (4,400 feet altitude) I lived in solitude amid scenic beauty for ten weeks, leaving my retreat but once for part of one foggy day. In 1944 I spent thirteen weeks in the same district, deeper in the forest and higher in the mountains. This summer my enthusiasm for photography and my spirit of adventure brought me to new territory, the rocky chaos above timberline. Each lookout station had been placed on a site carefully selected because it surveys a valuable area or one with special fire hazards. For instance, my station the first summer over looked the logging operations and the mill sites of several lumber mills; the second sum mer it overlooked a burnt-over area, which contained much ignition material for lightning fires, and also hundreds of square miles of virgin timber. I do not mean that I was solely responsible for this vast and valuable territory. In my district were eleven occupied lookouts. Eight of them, as well as four in other districts of the Columbia National Forest, I could see from my station. They were between five and twenty miles away.