To conference organizer Vickie Lamourex, the town of Chester had all the earmarks of the ideal place to hold the Western Conference of the Forest Fire Lookout Association.
Chester is approximately the north/south mid-way point of the western states and is right in the middle of a large number of active fire lookouts in the surrounding area.
So on the weekend of Sept. 8, over 50 active and retired fire lookouts, along with related personnel from national forests and parks, and history enthusiasts from across the nation gathered together at the Chester Memorial Hall for fun, fellowship, education and planning for the future of historical lookouts in America.
FFLA was founded in 1990 with an organizational mission to be directly involved in research of current and former forest fire lookout sites, ground cabins and early forest fire detection methods and to promote the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of historic lookouts.
The organization encourages efforts of public and private groups in the restoration of forest fire lookouts with some lookout projects being undertaken by chapters of the organization itself.
The FFLA’s by-laws prohibit lobbying for retention of lookout operator jobs.
The FFLA membership in general is composed of lookout enthusiasts, hikers, conservationists, forest fire personnel, foresters, storywriters and members of the environmental community and all were represented at the conference.
There were tours of surrounding lookouts sandwiched between morning and evening speakers and activities all three days.
Mt. Harkness, Antelope, Pegleg, Dow Butte, Thomson Peak and Colby Mountain lookouts were on the menu mixed with speakers talking about those sites and others.
LVNP Superintendent Jim Richardson welcomed attendees to the area on Friday followed by remarks from Dan Elliot, Heritage Program manager for the Plumas National Forest.
Friday evening was both mesmerizing and entertaining as a sequence of active and retired fire lookouts related suspenseful and humorous anecdotes of their experiences at lookout sites.
There was quite a varied collection of stories taking into account some of the speakers have well over 50 years of lookout experience.
Saturdays speakers included Ray Kresek who is the author of “Fire Lookouts of the Northwest” and founder of the Fire Lookout Museum in Spokane; Keith Argow, chairman of the FFLA; and Wayne Pease, fire lookout on Mt. Hough for 34 years.
Artists Sally Yost and Lucinda Wood presented some of their work and talked about their experiences at Black Mountain Lookout as part of the Artist in Residence program, sponsored by Plumas Arts and the Plumas National Forest.
The Artist in Residence program provides an artist the chance to spend four nights at the Black Mountain Lookout for inspiration and scenic vistas.
Sunday morning, Forrest Clark, FFLA director for Western Washington offered information about lookout renovation in a presentation called ‘Lookout Legs and Pier Post Problems.”
Most of the offerings at the conference were designed to help each state chapter be better equipped to achieve success as they:
Document and research historical lookout sites.
Organize and help provide grant monies for completion of site restorations.
Assemble programs to increase awareness of historical lookouts.
Collect and document anecdotal experiences of lookout operators (past and present) to enhance the lookout experience for visitors.
Mid-day Sunday, the group was invited to the Chester Air Attack Base where Jason Pleau with the USFS Almanor Ranger District introduced the pilots and Forest Aviation Officer Brian Rogers that are often the first responders to many of the fires reported by local fire lookouts.
After Rogers explained the air traffic control functions of the air attack plane, the group checked out the inside of the cockpit and its multiple radio communication systems and then proceeded to the two Single Engine Air Tankers that were also on site.
Each of the SEATs is capable of carrying 800 gallons of fire retardant to a fire and as of the date of the tour they had dropped just over 300,00 gallons or about 375 drops so far this year.
Several of the fire lookouts mentioned that they like to identify which planes are responding to fires in their area by the tail numbers as they fly past the lookouts.
The general consensus was the conference was a great success with lots of useful information, good food, fun auction items and they were thrilled to have members of the community come and participate.