Fire Lookouts

Carter Dome lookout tower under construction, New Hampshire, 1925.
Carter Dome lookout tower under construction, New Hampshire, 1925.
Fire lookout tower, North Carolina, 1916.
Fire lookout tower, North Carolina, 1916.
Open Pond lookout tower, Conecuh National Forest, Alabama, 1940.
Open Pond lookout tower, Conecuh National Forest, Alabama, 1940.

Following the devastating fires of 1910, early fire detection became a priority within the Forest Service. To help aid detection, lookout towers began to be built on national forests throughout the country. These building efforts were further aided during the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, who worked on numerous lookout building projects across the nation.

Raymond Thompson, Fire Guard at Brule Tower, sighting fire with firefinder, Wisconsin, 1950.

The fire detection process was also aided over the years by an invention developed by USFS forester William Bushnell Osborne, Jr. Osborne first invented a "firefinder" in Oregon in 1911 using a rotating steel disc with attached sighting mechanisms. This instrument allowed lookouts to accurately pinpoint the geographic location of forest fires by sighting distant smoke through the device. Further modifications and technological developments were made by Osborne to the firefinder over the next 30 years. The Osborne Firefinder was widely used by Forest Service lookouts throughout the 20th century, and production of the devices by various companies continues even today.

Helen Dowe at the Devil's Head Fire Lookout, Pike National Forest, Colorado, 1919.
Helen Dowe at the Devil's Head Fire Lookout, Pike National Forest, Colorado, 1919.

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