Always happy to help provide a diversion from work.
Why am I not surprised?
pitamakan wrote: I think the 500 lookouts figure is open to question, though ... Leif is definitely a fire-lookout expert, but I think he meant that there were 500 lookout buildings still in existence. My guess is that the number of currently-staffed lookouts is far smaller than that. I believe there are fewer than two dozen staffed lookouts in Montana these days, for example ... and northwestern Montana has one of the highest concentrations of fire lookout towers in the West.
Hmm. I just listened again and I don't think he meant buildings. 12 or 13 minutes in, he is contrasting the very specialized technologies which some places use vs the more integrated responsiveness that humans can offer and he concludes, "those technologies are not going to handle that. Because we're the quietest aspect of fire, we're not as present in the everyday for people in the Valley. There's 500 of us in the West right now and we're still here doing the work when people are thinking other things are going to replace us."
So, I have no idea as to whether 500 is correct, but it would seem that our mutual surprise at how large his number is, just goes to support his point that the lookout guys are pretty invisible to most of the world.
Out of curiosity, I just tried googling how many manned fire lookouts there are, and although I ran out of steam (or rather, got distracted running down way too many interesting rabbit holes!) before I found what I was looking for, I did come across this August 2013 article in the Flathead Beacon:
http://www.flatheadbeacon.com/articles/ ... ning/35209
"At one time there were more than 600 fire lookouts in Montana. Now that number has dwindled to 130, only about 40 of which are staffed."
Again, I have no idea how accurate these numbers are, but the downward trend is pretty striking and sure suggests that it's only a matter of time before Leif and the others will be replaced by satellites and drones and computers.
I realize that I'm probably romanticizing the job some...nonethless, losing the lookouts seems a shame to me.