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-a Firehawks Lookouts romance story- Marta Chavez possesses the dubious honor of spotting the most fires in a single season from her perch high atop Swallow Hill in the rugged Lolo National Forest. Her fantasies of finding a decent man feel as ephemeral as wildfire smoke. Until Tyler Brown crash lands his firefighting helicopter at her remote cloister and they both must survive the Blaze Atop Swallow Hill Lookout.
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Blaze atop Swallow Hill Lookout
a Firehawks romance story
by M. L. Buchman
The “airshow” was spectacular, from a distance. Marta Chavez scanned the horizon every fifteen minutes like a responsible fire lookout. But she spent the rest of her time watching the firefight over at Gray Wolf Summit, about twenty miles to the northeast of her tower. They were deep in the Lolo wilderness, rougher than Colorado, and only Alaska was more wild.
First the smokies had spilled out of the sky, their parachutes blooming and dancing about in the fire-driven winds. Then the new four-jet BAe 146 tanker had arrived on the fire, dropping great swaths of dark red retardant. A half dozen helos zipped through the air: a trio of the big converted Black Hawk helicopters called Firehawks that were at least as impressive as the BAe 146, and a second trio of little MD500s that flitted about the sky.
She always loved watching the MD500s. They only carried a little water, a hundred and thirty gallons versus the thousand of the Firehawk or the three thousand dropped by the BAe, but they could slip right up to a spot fire, blast it out of existence, and dance out of the way with a tight pirouette. It always reminded her of her childhood dreams of being a ballerina, dashed by the advent of breasts at the age of thirteen. Ballerinas were supposed to be willowy—even better if you were short and willowy.
Marta was tall and had ended up…very not willowy. Her mama had always said it was God’s will; personally, Marta felt gypped.
So she’d gone out for track instead and that had led to cross-country, which was nuts for a woman with curves, but a doubled-up sports bra had cured the worst of that—still her chest hurt like the Madonna after some of the bigger runs.
Ultimately, running along the forest trails and logging roads of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho had led to a summer job as a fire lookout. Now she could watch helicopters dance so lightly on the winds that they reminded her that she wasn’t so graceful. But still she couldn’t stop watching them; her arms ached from holding the binoculars aloft even though her elbows were propped on the edge of her cabin’s table.
It was the eighth fire she’d found already this summer, which earned her the dubious honor of being the number one spotter this season. She was just glad that none of them had been anywhere near her. The airshow must have really rattled Gray Wolf’s cage as this fire burned right at the base of his lookout tower’s mountain; which explained why she’d spotted it first—he’d had no view straight down off his cliff. They had it contained now; ground crews would be in to kill it in the morning. He’d never been threatened, but it could have gone bad.
Marta scanned the thickly-clad conifer mountains of the Lolo National Forest. Her first year she’d thought of it in mountains: Goat, White, Cougar. Now in her second season she knew it by the dark slashes of recent fires or the bright green of new growth after last season’s: Colgate, Crazy Creek, Loco, and all the rest.
She finished the round, her last of the day, and called it in, “Swallow Hill reporting, no fires except Wolf’s Den. Out of service.”
“Roger that, Swallow Hill. Well done today.” She liked Vic, the U.S. Forest Service ranger in charge of this sector. He always had something nice to say. She’d carried quite a fantasy about him during the first season…until she’d found out he was forty with a gut and married. But he had one of those deep, smooth voices.
Just like Helo 41. She could listen to Tyler Walker, 41’s lone pilot, report vectors and drops of his MD500 all day—he had a liquid Colorado accent, overly polite with just the sweetest hint of cowboy. But quite why a girl from Coeur d’Alene would swoon over such a thing—she’d never even been to Colorado. Didn’t even know what he looked like, but she did enjoy listening to that voice of his.
Even though the official day of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. was over for the lookouts, she kept both her radio and her scanner on as she made dinner. On the radio she heard Gray Wolf still working the communications with the ground crew. In the deep canyons of the Lolo, it was common that one ground crew couldn’t talk to another, so the lookout tower would act as a relay.
She took her water jug down to the cistern and filled it up. The rainwater off her lookout tower roof had been collected throughout the winter into a concrete cistern built beneath her lookout tower on Swallow Hill. Hill—that just wasn’t right. Swallow Hill might not be one of the big peaks—Cougar ruled the area up at almost nine thousand feet—but at seventy-five hundred, her “Hill” should have been respected as a mountain. She often felt sorry for it.
“We’ll show ‘em, girl,” she patted the rock at the base of the steps before climbing back up toward the lookout’s cabin.
The lookout tower itself was new, as far as lookout towers went. Most had been built by the Depression-era crews almost a century ago. Swallow Hill had been burned over in the sixties and had to be replaced. Rather than the elegance of one of the CCC’s massive wooden structures, her tower was five stories of steel lattice. It had been built tall so that the view would be clear when the timber regrew. Fifty years after the burnover and the tallest trees were still only a dozen feet high. Most of the upper slope was lush alpine meadow. It gave her an amazing view from her twelve-foot square cab at the top.
A hundred and forty-four square feet of pure functionality. A two-foot wide “deck” wrapped all of the way around so that she could open and close the big shutters at the beginning and end of the season, and could clean the wrap-around glass windows in between.
Everything in its place, because if it wasn’t, she’d trip on it. Dad’s fifth-wheel camper was bigger than this place, and that was before he opened the slide-outs. The cab’s center was dominated by the two-foot diameter disk of the Osborne Fire Finder to let her pinpoint a blaze. Around the perimeter was a chair, a cot, and a strip of counter that was desk, workbench, and kitchen. The cooler sat underneath the counter along with her pack and all of her dry groceries. Finding a spot for both her running shoes and her boots had been a problem until she’d decided to always keep one or the other on while she was awake.
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