Photographs and Text byRuth Fremson
GLACIER PEAK WILDERNESS, Wash. – Smoke was rising over Bonanza Peak. So Russ Dalton, 72, stepped inside the lookout post perched high above theGlacier Peak Wilderness, spun the fire finder to point in the direction of the faint dark smoke he had spotted, and lined up the cross hairs on the exact spot.
Then he put down his binoculars and picked up his radio: “Puget Sound Dispatch. Miners Ridge lookout. I’m reporting active smoke. ”
Mr. Dalton is a fire lookout, one of the remaining few whose job it is to scan the horizon for smoke and alert the authorities before a fire becomes deadly.
In their heyday there were more than 8, 00 0 fire lookouts in 49 states across the United States. Many were built during the Great Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs.Despite the solitude, many fire lookouts were drawn to the romance of spending summer on a mountain peak, sleeping under the stars between days scouting for fires. The writers Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder and Edward Abbey were among them.
Now, human lookouts are becoming a remnant of the past. The Forest Service manages 153 lookout posts these days in Washington and Oregon, but only about 50 of them are staffed full- or part-time.
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