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Lolo National Forest fire lookout crucial during fire season

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Posted at 11:57 AM, Aug 02, 2022

HUSON - About 7,000 feet in the air above the Lolo National Forest you'll find one of the top defenses against wildfires in Western Montana.

It takes a little over 90 minutes to reach the lookout which was officially staffed in 1964 and serves as one of five active fire lookouts for the Lolo National Forest.

Tom Wegner — a former Wisconsin teacher — has been stationed at Stark Mountain for 10 years.

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He comes to Montana during fire season and works as long as 13 days in a row.

“It’s not so much a job, but a way of life," said Wegner. "The first thing, I check for smoke and the last thing I check for is smoke. And in between a lot of checking for smoke.”

A 360-degree view from the deck makes it easy for Wegner to be the eyes and ear for crews on the ground if a fire does start.

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“There’s a lot of punctuated equilibrium type things, where one minute you might not be doing much and the next minute all heck is breaking loose and you’ve got a lot on your plate,” Wegner told MTN News.

Firefighters on the Lolo National Forest have responded to 26 wildfires; nine lightning-caused fires and 17 human-caused, so far this year, making Wegner’s job an important one.

Between checking for smoke, communicating on the radio and mapping out possible fires, Wegner doesn’t get too much downtime.

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But when he does, he gets to enjoy the beauty of the mountains that surround him… finding solitude.

“In each minute is a piece of magic, and in each moment are a thousand gold pieces, and that’s very much what it is like working here," said Wegner.