written by Bronte Dod | photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service
The summer of 1910 was a devastating season for Oregon’s wilderness.
“In August, numerous small wildfires in Idaho joined together to create what later became known as the ‘Big Blowup,’” Cheryl Hill writes in the introduction to her new book Fire Lookouts of Oregon. She continued: “In the wake of that bad year, the Forest Service adopted a policy of strict fire suppression. In each national forest, a fire detection system was organized consisting of lookouts and guard stations.”
Fire Lookouts of Oregon will be published on March 28
The small lookouts were built on high points around Oregon and the west. A boom of construction occurred during the 1930s and 1940s. There have been about 900 fire lookouts built around Oregon, but less than 175 remain today.
Hill, an Oregon native and an avid hiker and photographer, became fascinated with these historic structures. She has summited many of the peaks in Oregon and Washington that are home to fire lookouts. She became intrigued by their history and by the people who staff them in the summers to keep watch over the land.
Fire Lookouts of Oregon is a collection of historic images—many images of lookouts that have been torn down or rebuilt. “I gathered some really great stories—really interesting people. It’s a good snapshot of the history of lookouts, what the job was like, and how things have changed,” she said.
Today, the Forest Service rents out some of the lookouts in the off-season, so anyone can experience a unique overnight stay in Oregon’s backcountry. The lookouts are primitive camping sites—there is a shelter, but there is usually no water and no electricity.
Hill has stayed in six or seven of the lookouts in Oregon. “Each one is a different experience,” she said. “The stars are amazing, the sunsets are amazing and the sunrises are amazing. It’s an amazing experience to be on top of the world with those views.”