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Conservation group trying to buy Sonoma County's last fire lookout

  • Lacey Parmeter raises the flag at half staff for 19 fire fighters killed in Arizona this week as she works as a lookout at Pole Mountain northeast of Jenner, California on Tuesday, July 2, 2013. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

On duty more than 2,200 feet above the Sonoma Coast, Lacey Parmeter, 18, measured the weight of ponderosa pine dowels on a scale tucked inside a box atop Pole Mountain.

The calibration, taken on a recent day atop Sonoma County's tallest coastal peak, gauged how much moisture was contained in dead fuel, the dry grasses and accumulated woody debris that feed wildfires.

Parmeter climbed the steps into the two-story fire lookout tower on the bare peak rising between Jenner and Cazadero. On a handheld radio, she called in a batch of weather readings to the Cal Fire station on Mount St. Helena.

Pole Mountain Lookout

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"St. Helena, this is Pole Mountain with weather, in service," said Parmeter, a 2012 El Molino High graduate.

The fate of Sonoma County's only remaining fire lookout is in flux, with the potential sale of the private, windswept 238-acre property where it has stood since 1981.

The landowners are ready to sell and have entered a purchase agreement with the nonprofit conservation group Sonoma Land Trust, which must raise $2.35 million by the fall.

The land trust has vowed to allow the fire lookout to continue on the property. But the lookout's future is less certain if the sale does not go through and the property is put on the <NO1><NO>market.

<NO1><NO>"Who knows who (the buyer) will be," said Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman, board member of the nonprofit Pole Mountain Fire Lookout Inc. "It makes no difference to me, as long as they let us keep the lookout."

Residents of Cazadero, Monte Rio and other communities surrounding the west county peak raise more than $40,000 each year to keep Pole Mountain staffed from when the grasses dry out in June until the first rains of October.

Four part-time lookouts share the shifts and are paid about $150 for an eight-hour workday.


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