Mountaintop smoke spotter hired on for Martis Fire Lookout |

Mountaintop smoke spotter hired on for Martis Fire Lookout

Jenny Goldsmith
Sierra Sun
Josh Miller/Sierra SunRick Baender and his scarlet macaw, Sabrina, look out toward Lake Tahoe from his "office" on top of Martis Peak.

Step into Rick Baender’s summer office and the only thing you will notice is the 360-degree view of the Tahoe National Forest.

But Baender isn’t there for the panoramic vista ” he’s there to scan the horizon for smoke.

“The post is important to catch early detection of fires, but it could also save lives under the right scenario,” Baender said.

Baender will tentatively begin his eighth season at the Martis Peak Fire Lookout on July 2, just in time for the Fourth of July, said CalFire Battalion Chief Doug Rinella.

“Due to the high number of visitors we anticipate over the weekend, we are concerned so we’re trying to get the lookout open before the Fourth,” Rinella said.

However, staffing the lookout has had to take a back seat due to the abundance of wildfires raging across the state, Rinella said.

“With two-thirds of our employees on the fire line right now, we’ve been tied up, but we’re still hopeful to have it open on July 2,” Rinella said.

Thanks to a new contract between the Town of Truckee and CalFire, Baender will now be a paid state employee rather than a volunteer, Rinella said.

But the post still needs volunteers to manage the station three days a week, Baender said.

“We’re very shorthanded and could definitely use more people to help out,” he said.

As a sentry, spotting the smoke is just the first step for Baender, who then has to establish the location of the fire and monitor the blaze while firefighters respond.

Last summer, Baender said he sited 67 smokes, with 48 being confirmed fires.

“In just one day I saw over 64 lightning strikes which started 23 fires,” Baender said. “It can get pretty dangerous ” I’ve had some close calls myself.”

At an elevation of 8,656 feet, the Martis Peak lookout is one of two active lookouts in the region with the other located just outside Loyalton, Baender said.

“The Martis lookout is one of the most visited lookouts in the state of California, so it provides us with the opportunity to pass on the fire prevention message,” Rinella said.

67: number of smokes spotted last summer

48: number of smokes that were confirmed fires last summer

8,656: elevation of the lookout

1914: year the lookout was built

$309.55: cost to build the lookout in 1914