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Postcard from the Past - The Lookout Station The New Patrol on the National Forests

Written by Dick Perue

On a hot August afternoon in 1912, the supervisor of the Medicine Bow National Forest answered a telephone call reporting a possible forest fire.

On the line was the “lookout man” at a newly established “Lookout Station” atop Medicine Bow Peak.

A 1912 forest supervisor’s report notes, “Within the space of 60 minutes, a fire which apparently threatened a fine stand of timber on the Medicine Bow National Forest had been discovered, reported to headquarters, investigated and located. All the forest officers concerned with the protection of that timber stand knew of the fire and its location.”

Thanks to the newly established lookout towers in the Snowy Range and Sierra Madre mountains.

The report continues, “When it is known that the Medicine Bow Forest covers over 800 square miles and that every foot of it must be protected from fire, the advantage of a rapid-fire system of discovery and location of fires is apparent. The prevention of fire on the National Forests has always been the chief duty of the men of the Forest Service, but it is only of recent times that they have perfected the system of patrol to the point where such prompt action as that described above is possible.”

Prior to building and manning the lookout towers, the forest was patrolled by foot or horseback, and it took hours or days to report possible fires.

This and many other accounts of fire lookout towers were related during a Friends of the Library program held on the evening of Jan. 20 in the Saratoga Branch Library.

During the two-hour program “Saratoga Historian Dick Perue,” as I was billed, presented a history of lookout towers and the folks who manned then. The hour-long video was accentuated with dozens of photos and personal accounts. In conjunction with the videos, this writer also provided a printed pictorial history of the “Lookout Towers of the Snowy Range and Sierra Madres.”