Some seasons of life seem destined to deliver cherished memories. For married high school sweethearts Dona and Nancy Hammond, they were the summers of 1972 and 1973, when Don’s lifelong dream of becoming a United States Forest Service fire lookout came true. His first post, the Dunn Peak Lookout, was eight miles northwest of Avery in Idaho’s St. Joe National Forest.
Once they arrived, the couple breathlessly lugged water and provisions up steep stairs to a fifteen-by-fifteen-foot cab two stories above the forest floor. Furnishings included a single bed, small bookcase, cabinet, table, and a wood stove. They would live without electricity or running water, a battery-powered two-way Motorola radio their only connection to the outside world. That night—engulfed by lightning strikes and full of adrenalin—they faced their first storm in the lookout.
Unless it was foggy or raining, the Forest Service required Don to conduct binocular searches from the catwalk for at least twenty minutes of every hour he was on duty. He scanned for smoke during the day and the glow of fire at night, and he learned to distinguish between blue smoke plumes and white wisps of fog. Despite the primitive conditions, Don, Nancy, and their Dalmatian, Misty, settled in and grew to love their lookout life. They spotted wildfires, encountered a wide variety of human and animal visitors, were startled by their first cougar scream, discovered delectable huckleberry patches, and simply enjoyed the idyllic beauty all around them.
After the Dunn Peak Lookout closed, Don and Nancy spent the following summer at the Middle Sister Peak tower, ten miles southeast of Avery. In The Last Lookout, Nancy shares stories from those two thrilling, magical fire seasons, along with their return as volunteers 37 years later. Interspersing regional fire history as well as dangers and details of the work, she journeys back to the narrow catwalks and stunning panoramas—a place where storms are building, the forest is dry, and any lightning strike could ignite a raging wildfire.
top of page
bottom of page