Fire-spot­ter re­calls hard life at lonely moun­tain look­out

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - China - By LI HONGYANG in Yichun, Hei­longjiang

Liu Jin­guo worked as a fire-spot­ter on the Lesser Khin­gan Moun­tains for 12 years be­fore a bear at­tack ended that part of his work­ing life.

Every day, he had to walk at least 90 min­utes up steep, rugged ter­rain to reach his look­out post, a 30-meter-high tower in Yichun, Hei­longjiang prov­ince.

“In win­ter, my pants would get soak­ing wet in the 1-meter-deep snow on my way up the moun­tain. I had to carry dry cot­ton pants with me to re­place the wet ones when I ar­rived,” said Liu, 58.

His job was to keep watch­ing for fires and po­ten­tial haz­ards. Most days, he would scan the hori­zon with his binoc­u­lars every half an hour. In spring and fall, when the risk of fire was high, he checked every 10 min­utes.

So far, only one fire has been spot­ted in the area Liu used to ob­serve, in April 2010. Liu was first to re­port it.

Life was lonely in the tower, he said.

“If I read a book, I could get dis­tracted or sleepy, but I needed to con­cen­trate and be alert all the time. The only way for me to re­lieve the lone­li­ness was to shout loudly at the moun­tain.”

Be­fore Liu took the job in 2004, none of his pre­de­ces­sors had man­aged to stay for more than a year. Liu said he feels he was able to stick with it so long be­cause he was born into a for­est fam­ily. It was like home, he said.

“My fam­ily has a green­house for grow­ing black fun­gus and earned much more than my salary as a fire look­out, which was about 200 yuan ($30) a month,” he said. “I chose to work as a look­out be­cause if the for­est burned, how would we be able to plant fun­gus?”

Now, the eco­log­i­cal si­t­u­a­tion is much bet­ter. The tree coverage has in­creased and the for­est is home to a va­ri­ety of an­i­mals, such as wild pigs, roe deer and black bears.

Around 9 am one day in Oc­to­ber 2016, Liu en­coun­tered a black bear while chop­ping snow-cov­ered branches with a ma­chete to clear a path. He did not hear the bear be­hind him be­cause the snow and leaves muf­fled its foot­steps.

When he sensed the an­i­mal, he turned to find the bear stand­ing. It was more than 2 me­ters tall. Liu was bit­ten on his hands and head be­fore he was able to swing his ma­chete, which scared the bear away. He called his col­league and was saved.

Af­ter the in­ci­dent, Liu switched to re­for­esta­tion work, which in­cludes check­ing new trees.

“I’ve never left the for­est all my life,” he said. “Even when I get old and in­firm, I’ll still be con­cerned about ev­ery­thing in the for­est and will de­vote my­self to pro­tect­ing it.”


Liu Jin­guo climbs to the ob­ser­va­tion tower in 2014.

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