Summit Structures

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written by Bronte Dodphoto 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.”

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 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.

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View more photos of these historic lookouts here

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.”

9 Comments

  • My mother and father manned lookouts in the Ochocos. I was fortunate to spend my summer months with them from infancy up into my 20s. A truly amazing experience that has had a profound impact on my life.

  • I had a large collection of 360 degree panoramic views taken from state and federal lookouts in parts of southwestern Oregon. All of the photos were taken in the 1930's; they even had the compass marks on them so you could tell which way they faced. Unfortunately, I "loaned" them to a friend of a friend and the were never returned.

  • Wife and I staffed 2 lookouts on the Umatilla NF for nine seasons. Much lightning, many fires, many visitors, much adventure and all as late as 1997 to 2005.

  • My grandmother and then my mother were on several different lookouts in the '50s and '60s. They also shared fond memories of those days.

  • Grew up in the fire industry in Linn County…spent a summer on Green Peter Lookout and worked as a relief lookout on Monument Peak, Scott Mtn and Swamp Mtn.
    My mother Rose Trenholm also spent many hours doing fire watch on the various mountains.
    My father Bud Trenholm was the District Fire Warden and in charge of the lookouts in the Linn County Fire Patrol area.
    It was a good experience!!!

  • Grew up in the fire industry in Linn County…spent a summer on Green Peter Lookout and worked as a relief lookout on Monument Peak, Scott Mtn and Swamp Mtn.
    My mother Rose Trenholm also spent many hours doing fire watch on the various mountains.
    My father Bud Trenholm was the District Fire Warden and in charge of the lookouts in the Linn County Fire Patrol area.
    It was a good experience!!!

  • I grew up on a farm in the hills out of Molalla. Having received a college scholarship from Crown Zellerbach, I was also offered the opportunity for summer employment manning fire lookouts on their timberland and near their logging operations. I spent the summer of 1959 on Ashof Butte in the Bull Run looking directly east at Mt. Hood. The cabin was on the ground next to a 90 foot tower with only a small viewing room at the top. The summers of 1960 and 1961 were spent at High Camp Lookout on Round Mountain between Goat Mountain and Table Rock in the Molalla River watershed. The cabin was on top of an 80 foot tower with views of the Willamette Valley, Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood. A productive patch of huckleberries near the base provided delicious contents for many pies served to my family members who brought new provisions and visited nearly every weekend. Neither lookout has survived.

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