Some early fire lookout structures were in trees

Recent drone photos of the remains of a tree lookout in Oregon

Lookout tree fire wildfire tower
Lookout tree, photo by Steve Stenkamp

Years ago, in order to detect new ignitions of wildfires, land management agencies occasionally took advantage of tall trees on hilltops, building platforms near the top with ladders or other climbing aids below.

Using his Phantom 3 Pro drone, Steven Stenkamp shot photos of a what remains of a tree lookout on the Deschutes National forest in Central Oregon.  Pumice Springs lookout was built in 1930 and used for less than 10 years, Mr. Stenkap said.

Lookout tree fire wildfire tower
Lookout tree, photo by Steve Stenkamp

“The Pumice Springs Lookout had a ladder for about 20 feet, then 2 x 4s for about another 10,” Mr. Stenkap told us. “From there, the lookout used branches until he (or she) was about 10 feet from the platform where there was, and still is, another section of ladder.  According to the data from the drone the platform is at 81 feet.  The lookout was also known as Sand Springs lookout.  The tree is just about equal distance from each of those springs.”

Lookout tree fire wildfire tower
Lookout tree, photo by Steve Stenkamp
Lookout tree fire wildfire tower
Lookout tree, photo by Steve Stenkamp
Lookout tree fire wildfire tower
Lookout tree, photo by Steve Stenkamp

Before he retired, Mr. Stenkap’s duties at the Bend Fire Department in Oregon included flying a DJI Matice drone.

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+

6 thoughts on “Some early fire lookout structures were in trees”

  1. golly that brings back memories. I used to ride my bike to a nearby tower…I got to be friends with all of the guys coming through and got to ride with many of them as a volunteer fireman as early as 15 years old. We had a big tree fort that I used to climb on fire days and sit there pretending I was in a tower. That led to me becoming very good friends with the local tower operator…which led to me operating my very own tower by the time I was 18, 3 years before going on the ground. That was back in the early 1970’s if that tells you how long I have been loving this job! I still love the fire part…I hate the politics!

  2. Awesome drone photos that capture a piece of fire management and Forest Service history. It’s amazing the ladder and platform are still intact after all these decades. Hope the forest archaeologist has recorded this historical site.

  3. I found one of these towers way back when, it had a small shack close by. We we marking timber when we found it.

  4. Love the photos. There was a tree house lookout on Tamarack Mountain on the Heppner Ranger District, Umatilla NF. It was built in 1925 and used until a 100 foot steel tower was built in 1933. It was still there in the early 1980s when I worked on the District. You could look down on it from the tower. I should have taken a photo of it but I never did.

  5. I was assigned to the Moose Fire in 2001 that burned part of Glacier National Park and the forest west of the park. As a DIVS my assignment one day was to meet with an elderly gentleman who had a private in-holding on the forest. While we were visiting he asked if I had seen the fire lookout. He then took me over to the edge of the cliff and showed me a large douglas fir that had been topped and had a board nailed to the top. He showed me the outline of where a small bed sized shack had been built at the base of the trunk and the holes in the trunk where the lookout placed pegs and climbed the tree. The tree also had a large lightning scar. Don’t know whether that occurred before, during, or after the time the tree served as a lookout tower. Definitely back when men were men.

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