'Technology can't provide the nuances that a human can'

'Technology can't provide the nuances that a human can' »Play Video
Nine summers, 100 fires spotted: fire lookout Blake Driver atop Sand Mountain

SAND MOUNTAIN, Ore. - Mount Jefferson, Three-Fingered Jack and the Three Sisters loom on the horizon from Blake Driver's porch.

But this isn't a vacation cabin.

For the ninth season, Driver's summer home is the wildfire lookout tower atop Sand Mountain in the Willamette National Forest.

His job: comb the landscape with his eyes, searching for signs of forest fire. In nine years, he's spotted more than 100 fires.
"I'm responsible for a full horizon check with binoculars every 10 minutes," Driver said.

Technology has replaced people, with cameras and aerial surveillance filling the gaps. Driver thinks there's room for both people and machines.

"Technology can't provide the nuances that a human can when observing a fire," he said.

And some technology - like the original Osborne Fire Finder at Sand Mountain, built in Portland in the 1930s - still work fine today.

Driver feels he has job security for now unless budget cuts hit the lookout program again.

"Every year there's the threat that it will," Driver said. "There used to be 65 lookouts on this forest. Now there's 5."