Field Notes


Some History on Fire Spotters and the Star of Our Film

February 22nd, 2012 by Jim Coudal

Information about the Fire Tower featured in our material relating to our Fall 2011 limited release, The Fire Spotter Edition.

Located in Oconto County, Wisconsin in the Chequamego-Nicolet National Forest, just two miles from the community of Mountain (pop. 860) and just off Forest Road 2106, the Mountain Fire Lookout Tower rises 93 feet, well above a tree line crowded with pines, oak, and maples. The Model LS-40 tower was built in Chicago in 1932 by the Aermotor Company, and was erected by the Wisconsin Conservation Commission, first several miles east-southeast in far more isolated location reachable only by foot trail, and then disassembled by the CCC and moved closer to service roads in 1935.

In use for nearly forty years, from May through September of each year a trained fire spotter would live at the site, spending every daylight hour up in the cab keeping watch for smoke, reporting possible fires via phone to a central Northern Wisconsin fire suppression station. At one time rich with thick forests, which in turn created a massive lumber industry, the area was prone to raging fires like the 1871 Great Peshtigo Fire which resulted in thousands of deaths, twelve completely decimated towns, and millions of scorched acres. Incidents such as these created a dire need for towers like the Mountain Fire Lookout.

Originally surrounded by small living quarters, a latrine, and storage sheds, the tower itself is now all that is left on the site. The last fire called occurred on April 25th, 1970, and it is one of only 2 remaining towers from the original 19 that were built in the immediate area. After its decommission, it served briefly as a radio antenna/relay for local ambulance and law enforcement services. Between 1993 and 1994 the site was rehabilitated and converted into a public site. The Mountain Fire Lookout Tower was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.

Further Reading/Information:
Mountain Fire Lookout Tower, Nat’l Register of Historic Places (pdf)
Norman Maclean’s incomparable Young Men and Fire
Philip Connors’ Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout
Lookout Info from the History of Architecture of the USDA Forest Service
The Forest Service Lookout Cookbook
Collection of Former Fire Lookout Sites
Fire Tower Blueprints
General National Resource
Adopt a Lookout
How To Use of the Osborne Fire Finder