Fire-spotting comes with perks: A 360-degree view of beautiful Arizona forests

The monsoon keeps Robert Piper busy scanning the skies for smoke and rain overlooking 360-views of Kaibab, Prescott and Coconino National Forests.

COCONINO COUNTY, Ariz. - Robert Piper, or Ed as he likes to go by, said there is no better job than spotting fires started by lightning from his lookout tower at the top of Turkey Butte.

Ed showed 12 News around his fire-season home, where he said he always finds ways to stay entertained; that’s how he knew there were 40 steps to the top.

He said things get exciting when lightning hit his tower.

“I mean it just goes 'kapow!'  And you know you got hit,” Ed said.

Luckily, the tower is pretty well grounded, but the stairs and catwalk are all metal.

The view was breathtaking -- a 360-degree shot of the Coconino, Kaibab and Prescott National Forests.

Having worked for the U.S. Forest Service for nearly 50 years and with a dozen looking out these windows, Ed has memorized the landscape.

“You look around and then you see something that does not belong, then you look at it real carefully. I look at it with the binoculars,” Ed said.

If he sees smoke, it's on to the fire finder.

“I look through this slot and line up this crosshair and so I’m looking straight at the smoke,” Ed explained.

With a location and description of the smoke column ready to go, Ed radioes the information to dispatch and crews are sent out to the fire -- sometimes in the middle of a storm.

Andrew Hostad, a fire prevention lead with the Forest Service, said it happened Tuesday.

“The next storm system came over the area, started spitting out a bunch of lightning and rather than risk it out there, they came back because the fire itself was pretty much confined to that area,” Hostad said.

As the flames burn on land and fire crews work toward containment, Ed has their back, enjoying the view, waiting and watching from above to see what’s coming their way.

“I really love this job. It’s fun, it is,” Ed said.

Ed isn’t really the kind of guy to keep track or boast, but Wednesday he said, to date, he had probably spotted at least 100 smokes.

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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