Rick is one of those lucky people that has found that ever-illusive
perfect job! He not only likes it – he LOVES it! You can hear it
in his voice and the stories he shares about his career as a Fire Lookout.
Rick was a self-described outdoor kid interested in white water paddling,
which eventually drew him to the University of Idaho, where he began
taking Fire classes at the College of Forestry in 1975.
A jump back east or two – he ended up working in Mackay, ID, as the
Copper Basin Fire Guard on the Challis NF. He ended up being a crew boss
on a 20 person Type 2 crew several years later on the Palouse District
on the Clearwater NF.
Rick’s lookout tower career began in Oregon at High Ridge Lookout,
a 67′ tower R-6 cab. High Ridge had not been staffed for 8 years at that point;
the fire finder was in bad shape, the roof leaked, and he ended up replacing the
entire catwalk and all 6 landings. Good thing Rick is a great carpenter!
Rick & his wife Linda absolutely fell in love with lookout life.
He describes their first year as “dreamy.”
“It was surreal. Here we are – I’m at GS4 at 60 years old”.
In the spring of 2017, they moved to Colorado, still working in Oregon at the
High Ridge Lookout. In 2018 they heard about Benchmark Lookout – a tower
only 4 hours from their new home.
Could that location be any more perfect? They would be able to spend their
10-day hitches at the lookout and 4 days off at home.
Rick went to the Dolores Ranger Station in person and promised them
he would give them his best if they chose him for Benchmark.
And lucky for all involved, they did.
That first year at Benchmark was in 2018 – just as the HUGE wildfires started
becoming a thing in Colorado. The 1500 acre Horse Park Fire in late May was
their first fire.
“The air show was insane! The radio traffic was insane!”
Four days after that fire started was the 416 Fire which ended up burning over
50,000 acres and was not contained for over 60 days.
“That first season, just for instance, it was so crazy. I didn’t know
the terrain, and I had to know it like RIGHT NOW! Some smokes
I nailed spot on; some distance wise I was off by 2 miles. Pretty Strange.”
Over time they learned the landscape, and Benchmark became
“You stare at the maps, you stare at the landscape, and pretty
soon it’s in your head.”
The lookout lifestyle is not for everyone – Rick and Linda love it.
They work together as a team to catch smokes.
“One of those things about being a lookout – you love it, or you
hate it, there’s no in-between.”
Benchmark Lookout was built in 1970. It’s a 14.5 x 14.5 space with a solar
powered 12v fridge and a 70 year old gas range; to Rick & Linda, it’s perfect.
“It’s just right. We are an excellent couple for this kind of stuff,
and we’ve got our double bed which is more than enough room for us.
It’s simple for us because we love being together. It takes a
certain mentality to be up there all the time alone, and it’s perfect
“You know, that’s typically the first question asked by the public
that comes up to visit. First question is about the bathroom, and the
second is how can we stand each other.”
A typical season for Rick & Linda begins in middle May to middle September,
they work 8-10 day hitches. Linda will skip maybe 2 of these hitches a season to
take care of her business; she spins exotic wools. But when the next hitch is up,
she’s ready to head back up the mountain.
“By the end of the season, we’re ready to go home but come
late spring, we’re ready to go back up!”
They have been lookouts now for 7 years total, and they foresee at least a few more years.
Rick & Linda are also co-chairs of the Colorado FFLA.