Keeping an eye out for fire |

Keeping an eye out for fire

Ryan Salm/Sierra SunRick Baender, volunteer coordinator for the Martis Peak Fire Lookout, scans for signs of fire.

The Martis Peak Fire Lookout offers a unique volunteering opportunity, and at an elevation of 8,656 feet it offers an amazing view, as well.

Rick Baender, in his sixth season at Martis Peak, is volunteering four days a week, not only looking out for fires, but also managing and training volunteers and keeping the lookout operational.

“Rick is doing a tremendous job up there,” said Capt. Dean Levonian from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “He stepped up and said ‘I love the lookout,’ and we really appreciate his dedication.”

By training more volunteers, Levonian hopes to lighten Baender’s load.

“We would like to recruit more people so he [Baender] could do one or two days a week,” Levonian said, “It’s too much to ask of him to work four days as a volunteer.”

Baender, however, said he loves working at the lookout.

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world working up here, even without a pay check,” Baender said. “This is my priority in the summer time.”

Baender performs a multitude of tasks while at Martis Peak.

“People ask if I stare out a window all day, and I say ‘No, it’s a little more than that,'” Baender joked.

Watching over a 360-degree view that looks down on six national forests and reporting on four, Baender establishes the locations of possible fires and monitors their progress.

“We usually see 50 to 60 smokes a year and 31 of those last year were actual fires,” he said.

Spotting the fire is just the first step for Baender, who then has to establish where it is and monitor it as firefighters respond. He uses an Osborne Fire Finder, which is a 360-degree compass with a map of the area in the middle and sights to line up with the fire.

“Once this thing pins it, there is no denying where it is, it’s like aiming a gun sight,” Baender said.

From there Baender writes down the degrees, the time, measures the distance and calls it in.

The spotting system is accurate, and it’s important for fire crews on the ground, he said.

“When a plane crashed on Luther Pass, I was within 250 feet of the base of the fire from 43 miles away,” Baender said.

He described the importance of lookout for the Truckee-North Lake Tahoe area.

“We could potentially save millions of dollars between real estate and timber,” Baender said. “I’ve proven time after time what the [lookout has] to offer.”

Baender trains volunteers to work with him or work on his days off.

“We’ll take anybody; they can work half a day or a full day,” he said. “It takes me half a day to get them up and running, and everything I teach them is backed up in a binder here in case they have a question.”

The volunteers come for a variety of reasons to the lookout. Some want to do community service while retired people like to do something a little different, Baender said.

“We even have couples who like to come up to spend time together,” he said. “Some people come up a lot. Others, like second homeowners, will come up once or twice a summer. These people are so supportive of this program.”

For those interested in giving back to the community while enjoying an incredible view, call Capt. Dean Levonian at (530) 582-947.

– Martis Peak Lookout was built in 1914, costing $309.55.

– The longest tenure at the lookout was held by Frank “Waddles” Maher from 1917 to 1943.

– The road up to the lookout was built in 1929; before that spotters had to make their way up by trail.

– Spotters were paid $80 for three months with an expense account of $25.

– The lookout was out of service from the early 1980s until it was refurbished in 1996.

From Gordon Richards, Sierra Sun

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