They’re called eyes in the sky and there are eight sets of them on the Deschutes National Forest.
They are fire lookouts — those trained spotters perched atop buttes around Central Oregon.
On these lookout towers, some days are busier than others.
“First thing in the morning when you get up you’ve got your coffee, you’re scanning, you’re looking around,” says Shannon Hodgson.
For Shannon and Joey Hodgson, a Friday morning in July was one of the latter.
It just so happens that the day we were shooting this story, Incident 406 broke out. People in Central Oregon know it as the Old Wood Fire — that 26-acre fire that started between Sunriver and La Pine on the afternoon of July 15.
Shannon and Joey were all over it.
“Is that a smoke out there Shannon?” asks Joey.
“I think it is,” says Shannon.
From their location at Round Mountain Lookout, they get on the horn.
“Hey Lava, this is Round. You’ve got both of us here. We think we see a real smoke near Sugar Pine,” says Shannon.
“Small blue-gray column,” says Joey.
“Burlington Northern has a crew on scene. They’ve extinguished the fire at this time,” says a voice back over the radio.
“I just want to let you know it’s still visible from here,” says Joey.
A studio apartment at 5,900 feet
“They call us eyes in the sky,” says Shannon.
Complete with a tiny office and a fold out bed.
It’s overlooking the Deschutes National Forest — one of eight lookouts on the front lines of detection.
This husband and wife team has 26 seasons under their belts. Fifteen of those are on the Deschutes.
“We’re really fast and we want to be good at our job because we love this forest,” says Joey.
Sure, this is a story about wildlife detection. But it’s also a love story about a couple married 28 years.
The Hodgsons were staying at Warner Mountain Lookout in the winter of 1996. They went snowshoeing and got stranded. They dug a snow cave and awaited rescue.
That epic outing put them on a new path toward becoming fire lookouts.
Joey splits his workweek between Round Mountain and Lava Butte.
Shannon, whose uncle was a lookout for one season, pitches in even on her day off.
“You can’t help but jump in,” said Shannon.
The job is not without its downsides.
“You end up with eyestrain, says Shannon.
There’s lighting storms
“Scare ya, it will scare ya,” she adds.
And paychecks that are smaller than the views.
‘It’s a lifestyle,” says Joey.
But it’s a critical gig during fire season.
In addition to spotting fires, they’ll also send back pictures and give real-time information to crews on the ground. It’s a critical job where minutes matter because where there’s smoke, there’s a fire.