Cabin and Lookout History

[PHOTO: View from Clear Lake Lookout]Many of the cabins and lookouts that compose the Recreation Lodging offering in the Pacific Northwest Region are the historic representatives of a once- extensive system of protective structures designed to detect wildfires and to house fire guards, "smoke chasers", who formed the front-line defense in fighting those fires as the initial attack.


The cabins were "Guard Stations" intermediate protective facilities between the Ranger Station and the back country. Guard Stations were strategically located, to afford the maximum contact with people headed into the back country to check permits, provide information, and caution about the use of fire. Guard Stations also placed fire guards closer to forest so that no time would be lost in getting on the trail when a phone call came in from the lookout locating a "smoke" (fire). Many of the trails that are now recreation trails began as fire trails to connect and supply fire lookouts, and to reach far into the back country.

[PHOTO: Fairview Lookout Interior - Umpqua]

Fire lookouts were fixed point fire detection stations, built from a sequence of standard plans, the designs for which were technical and functional. At first, fire lookouts were located on high peaks such as Mt Hood and Mt Adams, and in the fore country. However, the high peaks were often above the clouds and didn't provide a routinely good view of the surrounding forested lands. Access to the back country was gradually increased, and after its formation in 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built many lookouts, both ground houses and towers, in areas of the forests not previously covered. At its zenith, the fixed point fire detection system covered virtually every stream drainage, often from two or three points, so that almost all forested lands were visible. More recently, other fire detection technologies have largely supplanted fixed point fire detection stations.