With modern technology, we’re often tracking fires with the help of drones and using the latest in forestry to cut off wildfires before they spread. However, 100 years ago, the technology was as simple as fire towers. So, what are fire towers used for?
Fire Tower History
The U.S. Forest Service says fire towers, or lookout towers, became a focal point after a devastating fire in 1910. The wildfire burned three-million acres in Idaho, Montana and Washington State. Eighty-five people died in the fire. Construction of these fire towers as lookouts for smoke began soon after. By 1930 more than 5,000 were built, mainly by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
Forest services and other officials would then hire a fire lookout to sit in the tower and watch for smoke. Their job was to determine the location of the fire and then call for fire crews to handle any blaze.
A slow decline of fire lookout towers started around the 1940s, with a few hundred still officially in use today. However, many of the old towers still stand. Some have even become parts of folklore, as famous conservationist Edward Abbey spent significant time in a lookout tower overlooking the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Fire Towers Today
Today, you can hike to many lookout towers throughout our National Forests to see the view. Even more interesting, a handful are available to book online as your campground. Recreation.gov offers spots like Spruce Mtn Fire Lookout Tower in Wyoming and the Thomspon Peak Lookout Tower in Montana. Be sure to book early in advance as they are a popular destination to spend the night.