By Matthew C. Durkee
The next time you pass the golden bears guarding Klamath Bridge, look east and think of Red Mountain Lookout.
On a clear day, when the wind is blowing wildfire smoke farther inland, the four-story-high lookout and communications tower can be seen from Highway 101.
In addition to serving as a watchtower for smoke and lightning, Red Mountain Lookout's radio tower serves as a communications hub relaying vital radio signals for 12 agencies, including fire, law enforcement, state and national parks and mobile phone carriers.
Although Crescent City-resident Dan Leavitt, project manager for the Del Norte Firesafe Council, has spent most of his summer at the lookout night and day, seven days a week that was not his original plan.
"We (the Firesafe Council) were hoping this year we would just come out and open the lookout for Cal Fire, but they were too busy and didn't have anyone, so I've been doing this since the season began," Leavitt said.
At 4,253 feet, the lookout's location isn't the highest point in the area, Leavitt says, but it offers one of the most commanding views unobstructed by nearby mountains.
From his vantage, Leavitt has watched smoke and flames spread from the Blue 2 and Siskiyou Complex fires that ignited June 20 and 21, respectively.
Last week, a fire crew was diverted to the lookout to clear 4 acres of vegetation to protect the mountain's irreplaceable radio towers.
Leavitt has been photographing their work, in addition to shooting photos of the wildfires that continue to rage several miles eastward in remote terrain. This week, Leavitt shared his photographic record of the 2008 wildfire season with The Daily Triplicate.
As of Tuesday, the Blue 2 Fire is 4,688 acres, with 22 percent containment, according to the incident management spokesman Dave Sabo. On Sunday night, a 5-acre spot fire was reported crossing a hand line connecting the Gasquet-Orleans (G-O) Road and Red Mountain Road on the fire's northwest corner.
Leavitt awoke early Monday morning to smoke so thick he could barely see the ground from the tower, and he was forced to leave the lookout and clear his lungs for a day before returning on Tuesday.
Crews have since suppressed the spot fire, and to date, they have successfully kept the Blue 2 fire below the G-O Road.
Meanwhile, air operations to fight the 52,800-acre Siskiyou Complex Fire farther to the east have been hampered by low visibility. As of Tuesday, the fire is 36 percent contained, and incident management teams expect full containment of both fires in two to three weeks.