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The Lookout Station – The New Patrol on the National Forests

Written by Dick Perue

With a major forest fire burning south of Saratoga, just over the Wyoming/Colorado border, it seems appropriate to again tell the story of the lookout towers built years ago.

Following is an article I had written many years back about establishing better fire control on the National Forest.

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 that, “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 Medicine Bow 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 of lookout towers the forest was patrolled by foot or horseback and it took hours or days to report possible fires.

In a 1912 report written by Medicine Bow National Forest Supervisor C. M. Granger, it was noted that, “For the detection of fire on the Medicine Bow, there has been built up a system of what are known as primary, secondary and tertiary lookouts.

“Primary lookouts are points from which unusually large area are readily visible, on which a man is stationed throughout the season of fire danger, and which are connected directly by telephone with the supervisor’s office and the rangers headquarters.

“Secondary lookouts are somewhat less prominent points on which lookout towers are built; which are visited each day by the ranger or his assistant during the fire season; and which have telephone connection...

“Tertiary lookouts are high points having no tower or telephone lines, which are visited by the ranger or patrolman in dangerous periods.

“On the Medicine Bow there is one primary lookout, four secondary one and a large number of tertiary’s. These lookouts collectively cover almost every nook and corner on the Forest, and it is only...but then that’s the view in our next “Postcard.”