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Tue Oct 15, 2019, 11:25 AM

THE FINAL DAYS OF THE FIRE LOOKOUTS

For more than a century, the United States Forest Service has employed men and women to monitor vast swaths of wilderness from isolated lookout towers. Armed with little more than a pair of binoculars and a map, these lookouts served as an early warning system for combating wildfires. Eventually the towers would be equipped with radios, and later still a cellular or satellite connection to the Internet, but beyond that the job of fire lookout has changed little since the 1900s.

Like the lighthouse keepers of old, thereís a certain romance surrounding the fire lookouts. Sitting alone in their tower, the majority of their time is spent looking at a horizon theyíve memorized over years or even decades, carefully watching for the slightest whiff of smoke. The isolation has been a prison for some, and a paradise for others. Author Jack Kerouac spent the summer of 1956 in a lookout tower on Desolation Peak in Washington state, an experience which he wrote about in several works including Desolation Angels.

But slowly, in a change completely imperceptible to the public, the era of the fire lookouts has been drawing to a close. As technology improves, the idea of perching a human on top of a tall tower for months on end seems increasingly archaic. Many are staunchly opposed to the idea of automation replacing human workers, but in the case of the fire lookouts, itís difficult to argue against it. Computer vision offers an unwavering eye that can detect even the smallest column of smoke amongst acres of woodland, while drones equipped with GPS can pinpoint its location and make on-site assessments without risk to human life.

At one point, the United States Forest Service operated more than 5,000 permanent fire lookout towers, but today that number has dwindled into the hundreds. As this niche job fades even farther into obscurity, letís take a look at the fire lookoutís most famous tool, and the modern technology poised to replace it.

https://hackaday.com/2019/10/15/the-final-days-of-the-fire-lookouts/

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Reply THE FINAL DAYS OF THE FIRE LOOKOUTS (Original post)
douglas9 Oct 2019 OP
2naSalit Oct 2019 #1
SCantiGOP Oct 2019 #2
LawnKorn Oct 2019 #7
Mosby Oct 2019 #3
blaze Oct 2019 #4
Mosby Oct 2019 #5
Fla Dem Oct 2019 #6

Response to douglas9 (Original post)

Tue Oct 15, 2019, 12:11 PM

1. Brcause I live where many still active

towers are located, I know many lookouts from retired to current, and all manner of fire fighters. This sad to me and I wonder how well the new automation will function when it really matters.

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Response to douglas9 (Original post)

Tue Oct 15, 2019, 12:34 PM

2. I had a friend in a rural county where I used to live

Saw him several years after I had moved, and he told me he had closed his dental practice and retired. His wife said, "And tell him what you bought."
He had purchased an abandoned fire tower and the acre of land that went with it for just a few thousand dollars. Before I could ask him why, he smiled and said, "Wouldn't you like to have one?"
Yes, yes I would.

(It's probably a guy thing)

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Response to SCantiGOP (Reply #2)

Tue Oct 15, 2019, 05:04 PM

7. The ultimate deer stand.

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Response to douglas9 (Original post)

Tue Oct 15, 2019, 12:42 PM

3. There is a DUer who does this, can't remember his name...

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Response to blaze (Reply #4)

Tue Oct 15, 2019, 01:06 PM

5. That's the one!

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Response to douglas9 (Original post)

Tue Oct 15, 2019, 02:54 PM

6. Growing up in suburan Boston, there was still plenty of wooded acreage.

Last edited Tue Oct 15, 2019, 06:28 PM - Edit history (1)

In fact our home was surrounded by what we called "the Woods". We were on a huge rocky hill, I wouldn't cal it a mountain. At the very top of the hill, was a fire look-out. It would take us kids about 15 minutes to climb through the woods, up the hill to get to the lookout. During the summer months there was always someone there and occasionally they would let us up and into the lookout. The stairway mentioned in the article no longer existed when we were kids. We would limb the circular staircase in the center. The view was spectacular. You could see for miles. A while ago something made me wonder if the the old fire look-out was still there, so I used google earth. Sadly it's gone. But still have wonderful memories.


Hart's Hill Fire Lookout

https://digitalheritage.noblenet.org/wakefield/items/show/2945

"The state's Forestry Department erected a 40-foot forest fire watch tower on the summit of Harts Hill in the spring of 1913 to replace a similar tower on Bear Hill. The four-cornered steel framed tower was supported by four strong steel posts firmly cemented into the ledge at the summit of the hill. The lookout was another seven to eight feet higher, bringing the total height of the structure to nearly 50 feet, or 285 feet above sea level. The forest fire watch tower had glass windows on all four sides that provided an unobstructed view for several miles in all directions, 'as far as the western part of the state and the southern part of New Hampshire.' The first watchman was Henry Fay, the firefighter with the longest years of service. He was selected for the job, and paid, by the state Forestry Department. His equipment consisted of powerful glasses, a chart of the country 'round about,' a range finder and a telephone number (512-M). If he spotted a fire, he called the nearest fire department or fire warden. It was reported that he would be able to see a fire 10 to 15 miles away, and when he 'gained complete familiarity with his apparatus, could place it as close as 100 to 200 feet.' The Town voted in 1912 to pay $350 for public access to the tower. An iron stairway at the northwest corner was built so that ladies would not be 'inconvenienced.' On May 1913, over 400 people took advantage of the public opening." -- Text from calendar by Jayne M. D'Onofrio.

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