Sequoia National Forest plans to rebuild Needles Lookout destroyed by fire

Needles Lookout Tower
Needles Lookout Tower, July 28, 2011.

The U.S. Forest Service intends to rebuild the iconic Needles Lookout Tower in the Giant Sequoia National Monument located in the Sequoia National Forest. It was destroyed by fire July 28, 2011 when an ember from the wood stove’s chimney in the structure ignited the shake shingle roof. Burning debris raining down as the structure burned caused additional fires below the rocky precipice.

The lookout tower in central California was constructed in 1937-38 by the Civilian Conservation Corps atop the rock formation at 8,245 feet.  Access was along a series of stairways and walkways suspended from the granite or across granite outcrops.

In attempting to get an update on the status of the reconstruction, we contacted the USFS’ Western Divide and Hume Lake Ranger Districts. They referred us to Del Pengilly, President of the Giant Sequoia National Monument Association who is coordinating many of the efforts to rebuild the structure. Mr. Pingilly told us that the GSNMA has raised $30,000 of the $50,000 they will need, and if they meet their goal they hope to begin construction in 2015. Apparently the non-profit 501(c)(3) organization is taking on much of the work themselves, including soliciting the volunteered time of civil engineer Bill Roberts of Porterville, California who is drawing up the plans for the project. The new design will include the use of fire resistant materials.

Other than raising the funds needed, one of the hurdles is getting the plans approved by the U.S. Forest Service so that the volunteers from GSNMA can begin work.

Mr. Pengilly said they will be happy to accept donations from anyone who wants to help raise the last $20,000 they need.

Needles Lookout burningUPDATE November 5, 2014:

Below is a photo of the Visitor Center at Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, taken May 14, 2007 — a structure that at that time also had a shake shingle roof. I believe it still has a shake shingle roof.

Shake shingle roof Devils Tower National Memorial
Shake shingle roof on the visitor’s center at Devils Tower National Monument. Photo by Bill Gabbert. (click to enlarge)


Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

9 thoughts on “Sequoia National Forest plans to rebuild Needles Lookout destroyed by fire”

  1. Is there a more unique location for a lookout in the nation? Been there several times while working on the Sierra,(next door) Fence Meadow Helitack. Once I started counting steps, can’t count that high. Thanks Wildfire Today for the coverage and photos.

  2. Bill thanks for the Information. My Step Dad Robert Werner was the District Ranger on the then Tulle River Ranger District Sequoia NF Springville Calif. for 21 years retiring in 1981. The Needles Lookout was on the district and I can remember going to it on several occasions as dose my Brother. I am glad to see it will be rebuilt.
    When the wind blew there you could hear the cables that held it in place Grown under the stress many a visitor didn’t stay long if they had queasy stomachs. You were on top of the world on that rock.

  3. Hmmmmmm

    Wood shake single roof on a historical structure?

    Certainly there was an exemption to policy somewhere for asphalt or steel roof construction……..


    1. Most all of the old one’s were Wood Shingles. No Metal do to Lightning but some did get Asphalt replacements.
      Could have to do with Historical recognition.

  4. OK

    Should have clarified…….I do realize they were built this way….

    I was thinking from a hazard mitigation / Firewise method of thinking….

    If we are asking WUI folks for mitigation……Fed infrastructure ought have the same requirements

  5. I totally agree with Leo – shake shingles with wood stove…asking for trouble. Feds should know and do better, historic or not.

  6. I am sure it was declared a historical structure which would make it meet original construction criteria. Not sure why else it would have wood shingles.
    Being over 70 years old the shingles must have been replaced a couple of time’s.

  7. When the 83,000-acre Jasper fire burned through Jewel Cave National Monument in South Dakota in 2000, the shake shingle roof on an isolated historic structure had just been stupidly replaced weeks before with, guess what, another shake shingle roof. On three different occasions firefighters had to apply foam to the National Park Service structure and then retreat as the fire approached, taking a significant risk to protect the ridiculous roof.

    The historic log visitor center structure at Devils Tower National Monument, another NPS facility, the last time I was there, also had a shake shingle roof. I added a photo of the building in the article above. That structure has all kinds of modern non-historic accouterments like alarm systems, antennas, a very modern looking sign, and electrical power… so why not use a little common sense and follow your own advice…… use fire safe materials.

    There are alternatives to shake shingles that look VERY similar, but don’t explode into flame upon contact with an ember.

  8. I was there in May 2008 so sorry to hear what happened and glad to hear of the interest in rebuilding it hope to see the new one when it is complete

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