"Pacific Northwest Fire Lookout Architecture"

by R.H. SPRAY, April, 1995


L-4 Lookout      Fire lookouts have probably been with us as long as we have had forests and wildlands --- forever. If one wants to see "out" in the woods, the logical place to go is to a high point. Thus the story of fire lookouts is one of evolution not sudden invention.
     I must begin this story someplace within reason and have decided to keep it within my ability to do simple research. This means I will start with the early years of the Forest Service in the Pacific Northwest.
     When the Forest Service came into being in 1905, it came with a transfer of the Forest Reserves from the Department of Interior, General Land Office. The Reserves were redesignated "National Forests," and one of the first priorities was to protect the forests from wildfires which were destroying large acreages.
     This wasn't an easy job. The new people in the Forest Service in many cases didn't even know where their lands were located, much less how to get into them with any kind of effective fire control. The first years up to the 19teens, were mainly just getting acquainted with the land and acquiring a miserable dose of learning of the problem from the catastrophic 1910 fires.
     In the Pacific Northwest the first lookouts were merely high points which could be visited by patrolmen to "look out." Facilities and structures were minimal, primitive, and of indescribable variety. They were constructed by hand with materials available on site and were intended to serve only the immediate needs of the patrolman. Cabins or any kind of shelter on summits were rare because the patrolman would head for lower ground whenever weather threatened.
     The first officially recognized lookout in the Northwest was constructed in 1916 on the summit of 11,235' Mt. Hood, a very unlikely place for a first (I suspect there were other less noteworthy lookout cabins already in use). The theory at the time was that higher was better, and there was no higher place in Oregon than Mt. Hood!
     After Mt. Hood, the Forest Service soon constructed similar lookouts on Bachelor Butte, Mt. Bailey, Mt. McLoughlin, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams following the same "higher is better" philosophy.
     It then became apparent that lookouts located on such high peaks had a major drawback. They were often "fogged in" when dry lowland forests they were supposed to be protecting were in the clear. Therefore, the Forest Service revised their policy and began locating fire lookouts on lower peaks in the mid to late 1920's.
     With that introduction, we'll start describing lookout structures that were built in any significant number.

Click on the photos below to read about the different lookouts:

D-6 Cupola D-6 Cupola
(1916 to 1929)
D-6 Cathedral D-6 Cathedral
(Late 1920's)

Supervisor Hall Special Supervisor Hall Special
(1925 to 1929)
Aladdin L-4 "Aladdin" L-4
(1929 to 1954)

L-4 Gable Roof version L-4
Gable Roof version

(1929 to 1932)
L-4 Hip Roof version L-4
Hip Roof version

(1932 to 1936)

L-4 Extended Rafter version L-4
Extended Rafter version

(1936 to 1954)
L-5 L-5
(1932 to 1942)

L-6 L-6
(1932 to 1942)
R-6 Flat Top R-6 Flat Top
(1954 to present)

Tower Towers The Future? The Future?

"Historic Fire Lookouts on the Deschutes National Forest," Elizabeth Sinclaire, Deschutes National Forest, 1993.
"Historic Fire Lookouts on the Willamette National Forest," James B. Cox, Willamette National Forest, 1991.
"Fire Lookouts of the Northwest," Ray Kresek,Ye Galleon Press,1984.
"Lookouts: Firewatchers of the Cascades and Olympics," Ira Spring & Byron Fish, The Mountaineers, 1981.
"Solo Adventures Atop Lane County's Fire Lookouts," Doug Newman, Lane County Historian, Summer 1992.
"Mount Hood: A Complete History," Jack Grauer, privately published, 1975.
"Lookouts in the Southwestern Region," CRM Report #8, USDA Forest Service, 1989.
Photos from Forest Fire Lookout Association collection, Ron Johnson, Oregon Director.
Photographers: Doug Newman, Lillian Williams, Ed Anderson, Richard Spray.
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