WA Secretary of State Blogs

Historic Fire Lookouts in Washington

Historic Fire Lookout Stations - StorymapAs we enter, what will no doubt be, another intense fire season in Washington State, it is comforting to know that technology and modern methods are in place to spot and stop wildfires quickly.  But it also brings to mind a reflection on how fires were managed in the early 20th century.  One answer was a chain of fire lookout stations, many built by the CCC in the 1930’s.  “Back in the 1930s the still-growing lookout system seemed like a stable part of the fire protection program of the forests of Washington. “ (Spring and Fish, pg. 11).  “They were placed, wherever possible, so at least two stations could overlap surveillance of the same territory and thus accurately pinpoint the location of a fire.” (pg. 14).  In 1953 the U.S. claimed 5,060 “permanent” fire lookouts (pg. 22) with 685 in Washington.

As keepers of our state’s history the Washington State Library has a variety of resources that help us remember this piece of our past.  One such resource is the wonderful Washington Rural Heritage collection.  This is an ever growing collection of images pulled from personal collections and small historic museums.  Part of the collection includes pictures of fire lookout towers from around the state as well as panoramic images taken from lookout towers.  Pulling images from the Rural Heritage collection and our digital photo collection we decided to create an interactive storymap to keep the history alive.

In addition to the historic images we have several books in our collections about fire lookouts.  So if you are interested in the history, the legends or the modern practicality of how to visit or even cook at a lookout station remember that much of our collection can be requested through ILL.

Doty, Thomas. Trek to Table Mountain: Seasons of Stories. Ashland, OR: Upriver Downriver Productions, 2003. Print.

Kresek, Ray. Fire Lookouts of the Northwest. Fairfield, Wash: Ye Galleon Press, 1998. Print.

Langston, Libby. Lookout Cookbook: A Collection of Recipes by Forest Fire Lookouts Throughout the United States. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho: Museum of North Idaho, 2005. Print.

McFadden, Tish, and Tom Foley. How to Rent a Fire Lookout in the Pacific Northwest: A Guide to Renting Fire Lookouts, Guard Stations, Ranger Cabins, Warming Shelters and Bunkhouses in the National Forests of Oregon and Washington. Berkeley, CA: Wilderness Press, 2005. Internet resource.

Rideout, Ham. Fire Watch: A Summer to Be Remembered at the Steliko Point and Badger Mountain Lookouts : Memoirs of a Jr. Forest Guard and so Much More! Steilacoom Wash.: N.p., 2006. Print.

Luckily for Washington many lookout stations still exist. Today there are eighty-seven lookouts which remain standing. (Abegg) So, if you’re up for a hike or perhaps the chance to spend a night in a piece of history why not venture out and visit one yourself.

Abegg, Steff. “Fire Lookout Structures.” www.sTePhaBeGg.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 July 2016.

Spring, Ira, and Byron Fish. Lookouts: Firewatchers of the Cascades and Olympics. Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1981. Print.

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