By Heather Janssen

NEVADA COUNTY (CBS13) – Hot and dry drought conditions have been bad this year, leading firefighting efforts to start earlier than usual.

That includes the ‘eyes in the sky,’ who staff lookout towers across the state.

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The sounds of the scanner could be heard by all at Banner Mountain Lookout in Nevada County.

“It’s the best four hours of my week,” said Jon Hall, who volunteers at the lookout.

Volunteers like Hall and Paul Moore are consistently full of adrenaline.

“It’s a real rush,” said Hall.

Even as they stare at a serene view of the mountains and trees, they must stay on top of their jobs.

“We have to stay on our toes because the fire situations change so quickly,” said Moore.

Four thousand feet in the air, the tiny is responsible for spotting smoke from miles away.

“There’s an excitement but there’s also a cold dread, is this one going to be big?” said Moore.

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Banner Mountain has also seen its fair share of large fires in the past several years. Most recently, volunteers assisted with the Jones Fire of 2020 in Nevada County. They also pinpointed 2015’s Lowell Fire, which went on to burn thousands of acres in Nevada and Placer counties.

“You’re helping stop the spread of something that’s already started,” Hall said.

Hall and Moore had to start their volunteer sessions a month early due to horrible drought conditions already this year.

“Those conditions are only going to get worse until we get significant precipitation this fall,” said Mary Eldridge, a CAL FIRE spokesperson.

Ahead of what’s expected to be a busy fire season, these lookouts serve as part of CAL FIRE’s early attacks. They’re vital eyes in the sky in the many mountainous areas. In some of the more flat ones, fire crews must rely on people and aircraft to report what they see.

“A lot of times it’s happenstance; they see a column of smoke and so they call,” said Eldridge.

Banner Mountain Lookout is just one of hundreds across the state.

“Two eyes are better than one,” said Hall.

Their human eyes are trained to spot what wildfire cameras may not.

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As fire season moves into its busier time, CBS13 has learned the lookouts are still searching for volunteers. Shifts are roughly four hours a week. Anyone interested can contact CAL FIRE for assistance in applying.

Heather Janssen