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Spotting Forest Fires

Written by Dick Perue

With forest fires spotted around the state, we are featuring the lookout towers and the persons who manned them. Part two of the story, “Lookout Towers of the Snowy Range and Sierra Madres,” follows:

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 ones, and a large number of tertiary’s. These lookouts collectively cover almost every nook and corner on the forest, and it is only the very deep canyons or narrow gulches, which do not expose themselves to view from one of these points.

“The primary lookout point is on top of the Snowy Range. This Range is about seven miles long, and by visiting three peaks within a mile of each other at the highest part of the range, the lookout man can look down on 80 percent of the forest area.

“The lookout man lives at the foot of the range in a little cabin on the shore of Lookout Lake. Each morning about seven o’clock, unless it is raining or so foggy as to obstruct the view, he climbs from his cabin to the top of Medicine Bow Peak, the highest point on the range, 12,005 feet. From here, he scans through nine-power binoculars all the north end of the forest. After making sure as to the presence or absence of suspicious smoke in the vicinity he proceeds south along the top of the range about half a mile to another high point known as Lookout Peak and repeats the search for smoke on other portions of the forest. Then, to make his observations complete, he goes to another point still further south which commands especially well the southwest corner of the forest.

“On top of the range immediately above the lookout man’s cabin, and about midway between his three lookout points, there is an iron box telephone set … which puts the lookout man in touch with all the ranger headquarters.

“It takes Miller, the lookout man, 40 minutes to climb to the first peak and about an hour for him to make the complete round of the three points. So, within less than two hours in the morning eight-tenths of the forest has been minutely examined for signs of fire. The watch is kept up throughout the day, and a fire could not start and gain any headway at all without almost instant discovery by Miller.”