Oregon’s Historic Fire Lookouts

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photos courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service


It’s not every day that you get a 360-degree view of the forest. That was the idea, of course, when the U.S. Forest Service began building fire lookout towers after a slew of devestating fires hit the western states in 1910. It was part of a larger effort to aid in early fire detection. At one point, there were reportedly more than 8,000 fire lookouts in the country and every fire season, lookout operators would report fires using whatever technology they had at the time. In 1911, USFS forester William Bushnell Osborne, Jr. invented a “firefinder” in Oregon. The instrument used a rotating steel disc with attached sighting mechanisms to pinpoint coordinates.


Rent a fire lookout from the U.S. Forest Service

17 Comments

  • My Mom and Dad did this on their honeymoon in 1950. I heard my Mom say they had to stand on glass Insulated Stools when the lightening hit the lightening rod on the towers!

  • I worked on two different look-out towers in Douglas County, Silver Butte and Bland Mt. Standing on an insulated stool was still recommended during lightning storms. I loved the peace and tranquility of the mountain. When I worked on Silver Butte in the 80’s I had to bring enough non-perishable food to last for 10 days (I worked 10 days on, 4 days off). When I worked on Bland in the 2000’s, I had a solar powered refrigerator! What a difference! Still no running water for drinking or bathing-camp shower and an outhouse. I would do it again in a heart beat.

  • Would have been nice to know where each lookout had been located
    I would like to see a photo of Stahlman Point lookout

    • Connie, there was just a book released called Fire Lookouts of Oregon (Images of America Series) by Cheryl Hill, it explains the lookouts of Oregon, their history and locations.

  • I worked in a lookout during college the summer of 1974, Old Blue Lookout on the Douglas / Coos County line. It was an amazing experience for a young college girl. I’d love to do it now that I truly would appreciate the peace and quiet of our beautiful forests! Being away for 2 weeks and then home for 4 days, learning to eat from a can, haul my own water from a spring and bathe in a helicopter pond were just a few of the experiences. I was thankful to have my black lab/shepherd mix dog to keep me company, meeting a fellow who kept watch at night at a logging site, watching for fires, spotting one I thought was a fire only to learn it was a rock quarry, oh the stories I have loved sharing!

  • Peggy and I spent our honeymoon as fire lookouts on the top of Iron mountain. in the Willamette National forest east of Eugene just north of the North Santiam Highway in July, August, and 1/2 of September, 1948. The cabin showed in the picture looks like the one we were in.
    A wonderful experience.
    Gene Astley

  • I did my summer on dry mountain lookout in the ochocco district in 1988. I could see clear to Nevada to the South. I never will forget the flock of humming birds that swarmed my little box in the sky. Hundreds were flying North along the line of high desert lookouts. Mine was just one of their regular stops among many. Apparently it was common practice to hang feeders on lookouts for many years and their annual migration was mapped by lookouts.

  • Loved my 4 summers working in the Douglas county towers in the 70’s – helped put me thru college. I would do it again. Was the best times ever.

  • I worked on Foley Butte and Gerow Butte lookouts (state forestry) in the summer of 1972 stationed out of Prineville Oregon. I loved every minute of it. You can now rent some of these lookouts to spend the night on. Find info on google. I’ve got one rented this May and i can hardly wait.

  • I believe the device pn the table inside the building is an Osborn Fire Finder. Similar to a transit used to triangulate fire locations.

  • I worked East Butte lookout in the Deschutes National Forest from 2009 through 2013. The original lookout structure at East Butte had been demolished in around 1996, and replaced with a new wooden structure. East Butte was in the southeast corner of the Deschutes (12 miles east of Paulina Peak and about 10 miles southwest of Pine Mountain), about 35 miles southeast of Bend, Oregon.

    I am currently staffing a historic lookout in the Coronado National Forest in southern Arizona, Lemmon Rock Lookout. Lemmon Rock is in the Santa Catalina Ranger District, and sits on a rock pinnacle in the Wilderness of Rocks on Mt. Lemmon – north of Tucson. Lemmon Rock is the only staffed lookout in the Coronado NF, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

    However, I hope to return to Oregon for another fire season or two, before I get to old to climb the steps anymore! Love Oregon.

  • I worked as relif lookout 1966 Mt Scott, Old Blue, Yellow Butte, Baughman,Dutchman,Silver Butte,,Wards Butte,HarnessMt. for the state forestry-DGPA. I had to have a work permit and permission from high school! 2nd and 3rd summers I was on Silver Butte. I had a dachshund and carried him up and down stairs for 10-7 breaks. I still dream of the breeze sighing in the guy wires.

  • For a list of current and former lookout towers see web site: http://www.firetower.org/

    The Old Blue Lookout mentioned above is no longer standing. It was replaced with a steel tower with a video camera on top. The video is sent to Roseburg by microwave to the Douglas Forest Protective Association headquarters where two to four observers watch numerous computer monitors as the cameras send back pictures.
    Most of the other lookouts used by the Douglas Forest Protective Association and Coos Forest Protective Association have seen the same fate.

  • My grand parents, Earl and Joyce Wilson worked on numerous lookouts for many years. Yellow butte, fair view, harness, and many years on mt Scott in Douglas county. My grandmas first job was on harness years ago at 16 years old. Unfortunately it is true the cameras have replaced the dedicated men and woman who manned lookouts. I am glad my grandmother isn’t here to see her long time job replaced by technology.

  • We did a hike up to Abbott Butte Lookout with our Venture Crew; not much left but a great hike. Views like nothing else.

  • There are still some staffed lookouts — not all have been replaced by cameras! For 18 summers I’ve been working each fire season for ODF atop Parker Mt. in southern OR between Ashland and Klamath Falls. Our district has three staffed towers — Hogback Mt., Chase Mt., and Parker. Soda Mt. on Southwest District is also still staffed. People either love being a fire lookout or can’t deal with the solitude and distance from civilization. For me the lookout is a respite from the busy world and I treasure my time up on the mountain, where I look out in all directions on beautiful scenery and hear nothing but natural sounds most of the time.

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