Perched at the top of a 45-foot steel tower, high above the trees in the middle of the Kittatinny Ridge in northern Sussex County, is a small cube with walls of glass.
In that cube, with binoculars pressed to his eyes, Nick Valerio can see for miles and miles around him. He, just like the fire watch observers in the other 20 watchtowers throughout New Jersey, is on the lookout for the telltale plumes of smoke from wildfires.
"It's a very, very important job up here in the tower," Valerio said as he looked around. "It's dispatching, accountability ... it's knowing who's going to a fire, who's at the fire," he said of his responsibilities. On Monday morning, Valerio stood at his post at the Culvers Tower, paying close attention to his surroundings. It's wildfire season in New Jersey, and the current fire danger is listed as yellow, or high. The spring and fall are the most dangerous for wildfires, said the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, part of the state Department of Environmental Protection.