FIRE TOWERS HOLD A SPECIAL PLACE IN THE HEARTS OF EVERYONE WHO LOVES THE OUTDOORS. THEY ARE REMOTE ISLANDS IN A SEA OF TREES, PLACES WHERE ONE CAN EXPERIENCE SOLITUDE, HOPE, GROWTH, ADVENTURE, ROMANCE, AND SILENCE, OFTEN ALL AT ONCE. THEY ALSO SEEMS UNATTAINABLE, SOMETHING JUST BEYOND REACH, BUT THAT IS NOT SO.
Once more than 10,000 lookouts spread across the US (in every state except Kansas), with their numbers peaking in the 1950s. Most were 14 x 14-foot wooden cabins that were entirely off the grid. Each offered a 360-degree view and was often precariously perched high atop a wooden or metal latticework. These silent sentinels were located throughout all of the country’s mountain ranges and wilderness areas and were crucial components of the nation’s fire response system.
For a time, the towers were quietly disassembled and carted off to the scrap yard. Luckily, interest in these fortresses of solitude emerged. Their state and federal owners realized they could be reborn for other uses.
As time passed, their numbers started to dwindle as new technologies emerged and fire management practices changed. For a time, the towers were quietly disassembled and carted off to scrap yards. Luckily, however, interest in these fortresses of solitude reemerged, and their state and federal owners realized that they could be reborn for other uses.
Today many vintage fire towers are available for rental by the general public. A quick search online will turn up many options. While a few nights’ stay sounds good, owning one sounds so, so, much better. And you can.
Building one from scratch is a simple option, but there is something to be said for the original structures. Ones that have seen untold snow and lightning storms, been wreathed in soot and smoke as the hills burned, and been home to the eclectic mix of “Freaks on Peaks,” as fire watchers are affectionally known. Many were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, and you can just feel the history radiating from them.
“Time spent being a lookout isn’t spent at all. Every day in a lookout is a day not subtracted from the sum of one’s life.”
While it is possible to find a privately owned fire tower for sale, you need a little luck and a lot of persistence to get one. These days the best way to purchase one is by buying a deconstructed one. When either its state or federal owner decides to decommission a tower, they keep the land and have the structure removed by experts. Several online sites list towers for sale and provide detailed information, and most owners will reassemble them for you once purchased. You can also keep an eye on the website GovDeals.com, a clearinghouse for all manner of surplus goods, on which fire towers are auctioned off directly by the agency that owned them.
Once you do get your hands on one, all you have to do is find the right piece of land to erect your own private tower, one that you can call your own. It can be your place to escape the rigors of this world and immerse yourself in the healing power of nature. Then you can experience what the novelist Phil Connors wrote about his time spent as a lookout: “Time spent being a lookout isn’t spent at all. Every day in a lookout is a day not subtracted from the sum of one’s life.”