Who is Prescott National Forest wildfire spotter, Aundrea Romero?
PRESCOTT, Ariz. - At the tip-top of a dusty and rock-covered road, an old wooden tower stands on steel stilts at just over 8,000 feet elevation.
Built in 1933 on Mount Union, the tower looks down on the ponderosa pines from the tallest peak in the Prescott National Forest, and up there all alone is Aundrea Romero.
"It’s very relaxing if you can handle the solitude. Sometimes people think they can, and they really can’t. So it does test you. Because you’ve really got to hang out with yourself a lot," Romero says.
She's a wildfire spotter from sun up to sun down, six days a week, looking down on the forest of pines which on a clear day means 30 miles in any direction.
"I keep my head on a swivel. I’m not constantly looking for smoke, but doing a more thorough check at least every half hour," Romero explained.
Perching on her pedestal comes with a lot of perks. Fresh air, amazing views, plus plenty of peace and quiet.
It, of course, also comes with a lot of responsibility.
Romero is credited with first spotting the Crooks Fire in April. It happened on her second day on the job.
"As bad as the Crooks Fire got, if it hadn’t been caught sooner, it could’ve been way worse," she said.
There are four towers strategically placed across the forest, open from about April through October, the peak of wildfire season, because spotting a fire is the first line of defense.
"We want people to feel safe in the woods when they are recreating. I know that someone is out here in case something happens like a fire," says District Assistant Fire Management Officer, Josh Nuttall.
When Romero sees smoke, she measures the distance and degree using a spinning steel plate and then finds the same spot on a more modern map hanging from the ceiling. She radios dispatch, describing what she sees and where she sees it.
"The best way is better safe than sorry. At no point is anyone going to be upset if it turns out to be a campfire or nothing at all," she said.
Things can get a little lonely up in the tower, so Romero passes the time with books and knitting when strong winds aren’t swaying the tower. When there are lightning strikes, she rushes to a lightening proof chair.
"This is supposed to make sure I don’t get fried," she said.
This is Romero's first year on the job, and it started out with a bang. Now, she's settling in.
Someone to watch over Arizona, because where there is smoke, there is fire.