By Jennifer McGraw

GRASS VALLEY(CBS13) — In preparation for a dangerous fire season, volunteers are being sought after to staff the lookout towers in Nevada, Placer, and Yuba counties.

The tall towers once built during World War II to protect against enemy fire are still utilized today, only it’s a different fight.

“This is my 6th season,” Ed said.

He’s retired law enforcement of nearly 30 years and now serving in a different capacity, protecting thousands of acres.

“We can see into Placer County, Yuba County, Sutter County, and Nevada County, and El Dorado County out this way,” he pointed from a metal structure three stories high overlooking the valley.

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These eyes in the sky are often the first line of defense against wildfires.

“We can have the aircraft and equipment dispatched hours before maybe someone could see it local and call it in,” he said.

True fire watchdogs volunteers and the county is desperate for more.

“We’ve got two full months to go, so when you were talking two people a shift, that’s four people a day that we need,” he added.

Slowly technology and budget cuts have phased these positions out in other counties.

“Tough choices had to be made,” said Cal Fire Division Chief in Butte County David Hawks.

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He said they installed cameras to feedback any sign of fire and smoke, and did away with the manned towers.

“Cameras can do the same thing, but then again they take a preset angle for short time and move to another, so there’s a lap that they have to do in order to create a 360-degree panorama,” he added.

While the cameras may be the wave of the future, he says seasoned veterans cannot be replaced.

“One advantage to the Lookout is that you have a periphery of a vision of about 180 degrees or better,” he said.

Ed says the lookouts are essential to battling dangerous wildfires and will continue to protect and serve as long as the towers are still standing.

“I think it would be a loss to the community. We enjoy coming up here so it’s not costing us anything to have us here,” Ed said. “You enjoy the peace and quiet and just seeing the scenery, but you also know why you are enjoying that. You’re doing a service for the community.”

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New volunteers will receive hands-on training with experienced volunteers at the lookouts during regularly scheduled shifts, either 10 am to 2 pm or 2 pm to 6 pm, each day of the week.

Only qualifications are the following: the ability to climb several stories of stairs (no ladders), no fear of heights, the ability to visually spot smoke many miles in the distance, talk succinctly on a Two-Way radio, be over the age of 18, reliable, attentive, trustworthy and a commitment to serve ideally weekly the residents and communities of the CAL FIRE Nevada-Placer-Yuba Unit during the fire season.

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Questions about the upcoming training or about becoming a fire lookout volunteer can be directed to the following coordinators:

Marty Main for Mt Howell Lookout (Colfax) at 530-228-6318
Jon Hall for Banner Mountain Lookout (Nevada City) at 530-478-0538
Lou Grossi for Wolf Mountain (Grass Valley) Lookout at 530-886-8992

Over the years, the volunteers, known as V.I.Ps (Volunteers In Prevention) have been credited with numerous first reports of wildland fires. The work these volunteers do generally goes unseen but is very much appreciated by those who know of their service.

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