Stephen Ellison

Fire Spotters Dodge Lightning at Lookout Tower Near Mount Hamilton

With more than 1,000 lightning strikes across the Bay Area on Monday, fires were inevitable, and a group of volunteer fire spotters in the South Bay were kept busy.

On Tuesday, they were ready for more.

The group works at the highest point above Santa Clara County, Copernicus Peak, where the only fire lookout tower in the area stands.

Cal Fire volunteers Jerry Borden and Mason Weirshauser work at the tower, trying to spot potential fires, and they said Monday was out of control.

They make their rounds every 15 minutes, scanning the Santa Clara Valley to the west and the San Antonio Valley to the east of Mount Hamilton.

"We can see Yosemite, Mount Tam when it's clear and Monterey to the south," Borden said.

Visibility was low Tuesday, but on Monday, the pair saw a light show from Copernicus, as more than 1,000 strikes were seen. The lightning sparked at least seven brush fires.

It also came dangerously close to the lookout tower.

"They had to evacuate the tower actually twice to the safety of their vehicles at the bottom of the mountain, only to come back up again once the cell passed through," Weirshauser said.

The tower is staffed by volunteers on high fire danger days. It was open all last week during the heat wave.

On Tuesday, the concern was more lightning.

"The forecast is for multiple thunder cells through the area again this afternoon, and we are going to be very alert looking for those," Weirshauser said.

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