Fire Towers

Lookout towers like Tater Knob and S-Tree are symbols of the long, proud history of fighting forest fires. These towers remind the public of the hard work and sacrifices that firefighters made, and continue to make, in protecting forests and nearby homes, farms, and towns from wildfires.

Learn more about fire towers by visiting the Forest Fire Lookout Association website.

Tater Knob Fire Tower

Tater Knob Fire Tower after damageThe historic Tater Knob Fire Tower, located on Cumberland Ranger District, is closed to the public after an arson fire destroyed the structure on December 3, 2008. The fire burned all of the supporting wood frame of the lookout cab underneath its metal exterior. The tower is no longer safe for visitors. Forest Service officials are uncertain at this time if the structure will be rebuilt.

The Tater Knob Fire Tower was built in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps as a lookout for detecting forest fires. The cab of this 35-ft. tower was home to the lookout operators who staffed it during the fire season. In a space less than 200 square feet, the cab had just enough room for a wood stove, two cots, a cabinet, storage box, small table, and a stool. The all-important alidade, or fire finder, stood in the middle of the room.

Tater Knob Fire TowerThe original wooden cab was reconstructed in 1959, reduced to nearly half its original size. The lookouts no longer lived in the tower. Instead, they climbed to the peak of Tater Knob every day of the fire season to watch for smoke. By the mid-1970s, aircraft became the new method for spotting forest fires. The fire towers, including Tater Knob, were abandoned from use.

The tower is currently listed on the National Historic Lookout Register.

S-Tree Fire Tower

S-Tree Fire Tower

The S-Tree Fire Tower once stood near the entrance to S-Tree Campground on London Ranger District. While this tower is no longer standing, it served as a significant place of duty for firefighters during the early 1900s.

Lookouts, or individuals living inside the towers, watched for smoke to rise across the forest horizon. When they saw smoke, they quickly reported their findings to firefighters ready to respond on the ground. 

By the mid 1970s, the need for fire towers was replaced by planes to aerially detect forest fires. Many fire towers, like the one that once stood here, were abandoned and torn down.