Volunteers staff lookout towers

In the 1980’s there were about a half-dozen staffed fire lookout towers in or around the Cleveland National Forest in southern California. Now there are only two, and one of them is staffed by volunteers. The Press-Enterprise has an interesting article about the restoration and operation of some of these towers. Below is an excerpt, but read the whole article HERE.

Fire lookout volunteers Michelle Brandhuber and Curt Waite check weather conditions during a training session at the High Point Lookout tower on Palomar Mountain. Press-Enterprise photo

With a spanking-new visitors book full of fresh, blank pages, the High Point Lookout fire tower in the Cleveland National Forest is beginning a new chapter in its nearly 75-year history.

After a painstaking restoration, the lookout is about to join nine other towers in area forests from which volunteers watch for smoke.

With the 2009 fire season ramping up, High Point just became the second staffed lookout in the Cleveland National Forest when volunteer fire-spotters began regular shifts in June.

The comeback of the High Point Lookout, which had sat vacant since 1992, is part of a larger resurgence of interest in saving and staffing historic fire lookouts.

More than 8,000 lookout towers once dotted the country.

A sort of early-warning system for remote areas, many were built in the 1930s for the U.S. Forest Service on mountains or other elevated spots where people could search for signs of fires.

Up in their perches and armed with binoculars, trained spotters can see a blaze as small as a campfire.

But budget cuts and technological advances led the U.S. government to abandon the lookouts in the 1970s.

While not all the technology has lived up to expectations, experts say, people who peer from the lookouts searching for smoke remain reliable.

Also, a series of major fires has led officials in California to seek every available means of stopping them.

“We’ve had some horrendous fires” in the region, said Pam Morey, a Southern California director for the national nonprofit Forest Fire Lookout Association. “I think it’s gone in a circle and we’re back to the (place) where we’re needed again.”

Life at a lookout tower

The Helena Independent Record has an interesting story about life at an isolated lookout tower accessible only by hiking trail in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana. When you go to the site, in addition to the article, it opens a video filmed at the tower. Here is an excerpt from the well-written article.

“When I first started up here, the drifts would last until the 15th or 20th of July,” she said, pointing to Sugarloaf Mountain, a dinosaur-looking peak cleaving the near horizon. “Last year, there was no snow at all up here by the Fourth of July. But this year, when I opened the lookout on July 3, it was the most snow I’d ever seen – more snow than when I’d come up here in June.”

The snow was so deep that when Chapman opened the lookout in early July, she had to dig a path for the pack train to get supplies to the summit. She dug four feet down and eight feet wide to make room for horses and mules.

Early this morning the mules returned, led by Tim Love with Mills Wilderness Adventures. We passed his pack train 2,000 feet up the trail as it headed down the mountain. The team was returning from a supply run, stocking Chapman’s lookout with enough food, water and wood to last 14 days.

Chapman stacked the wood below the porch. She placed the yams, avocados and bananas on the tables. The canned goods she stacked in the cabinet and the baking supplies – the shortening, flour, corn meal and salt – she placed on the shelf.