SAN BERNARDINO NATIONAL FOREST, Calif. -

This time of year, with the extreme weather, the fire threat grows in the San Bernardino National Forest.

Some special volunteers play a vital role in preventing wildfires and are often the first ones to spot them.

"If we can spot a fire when it's in its early stages -- 20 minutes, half an hour, an hour -- firefighters can get to it and it's a fire that burns two or three acres as opposed to two or three thousand," said Richard Hart, a 10-year volunteer.

U.S. Forest Service volunteers man a lookout tower in the San Jacinto Mountains with an amazing 360-degree view.

And they're always on-alert for the first sign of smoke.

"It's kind of that double-edged sword -- you don't want to see any because you don't want to have a fire. On the other hand, it's exciting to call it in and have somebody respond with helicopters, firemen, and put it out," said volunteer Donna Wyrill.

The Black Mountain lookout is nearly 8,000 feet above sea level and about seven miles west of the Palm Springs Tram. It's one of seven lookouts in the San Bernardino National Forest.


Volunteers take joy in all the natural beauty and take their job seriously to help protect it. Because a threat could strike in an instant.

The U.S. Forest Service said lightning sparked 31 fires in the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains from August 9 to 15.

"You're always expecting something and hoping for nothing," said Wyrill.