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Explore the history of fire lookouts

  • Will Jenkins, with his dog Tony, stand outside the Sourdough Mountain lookout in 1917.

    Chuck Jenkins photo

    Will Jenkins, with his dog Tony, stand outside the Sourdough Mountain lookout in 1917.

  • An aerial photo of a snowed-in fire lookout, probably Mount Pilchuck (date unknown).

    U.S. Forest Service

    An aerial photo of a snowed-in fire lookout, probably Mount Pilchuck (date unknown).

  • Nels Bruseth and Darrington ranger John Bruckart work a tram used to haul supplies during the construction of the Mount Pilchuck lookout, circa 1918.

    U.S. Forest Service

    Nels Bruseth and Darrington ranger John Bruckart work a tram used to haul supplies during the construction of the Mount Pilchuck lookout, circa 1918.

  • The fire lookout at Rinker Point, several miles north of Darrington, was one of a wave of lookouts built in the mid-to-late 1930s at lower elevations ...

    U.S. Forest Service

    The fire lookout at Rinker Point, several miles north of Darrington, was one of a wave of lookouts built in the mid-to-late 1930s at lower elevations — an attempt to get below the perpetual clouds blanketing the mountaintop lookouts. In World War II, many of these lower lookouts were used year-round as part of the Air Warning Service for the U.S. military, which feared a Japanese airplane attack.

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By Gale Fiege
Herald Writer
Published:
  • Will Jenkins, with his dog Tony, stand outside the Sourdough Mountain lookout in 1917.

    Chuck Jenkins photo

    Will Jenkins, with his dog Tony, stand outside the Sourdough Mountain lookout in 1917.

  • An aerial photo of a snowed-in fire lookout, probably Mount Pilchuck (date unknown).

    U.S. Forest Service

    An aerial photo of a snowed-in fire lookout, probably Mount Pilchuck (date unknown).

  • Nels Bruseth and Darrington ranger John Bruckart work a tram used to haul supplies during the construction of the Mount Pilchuck lookout, circa 1918.

    U.S. Forest Service

    Nels Bruseth and Darrington ranger John Bruckart work a tram used to haul supplies during the construction of the Mount Pilchuck lookout, circa 1918.

  • The fire lookout at Rinker Point, several miles north of Darrington, was one of a wave of lookouts built in the mid-to-late 1930s at lower elevations ...

    U.S. Forest Service

    The fire lookout at Rinker Point, several miles north of Darrington, was one of a wave of lookouts built in the mid-to-late 1930s at lower elevations — an attempt to get below the perpetual clouds blanketing the mountaintop lookouts. In World War II, many of these lower lookouts were used year-round as part of the Air Warning Service for the U.S. military, which feared a Japanese airplane attack.

DARRINGTON — Among Jack Kerouac fans, it’s well known that he spent the summer of 1956 working for the U.S. Forest Service at the Desolation Peak fire lookout in the North Cascades.
The Beat generation author chronicled his adventure in his books “The Dharma Bums” and “Desolation Angels,” contributing to the romance of forest fire lookouts in the Cascade Range: scenic, soulful and solitary.
In a romance of another kind, Harland Eastwood, a one-armed mountain man, convinced his new wife Catherine to spend their honeymoon in the summer of 1936 at the Three Fingers fire lookout in Snohomish County. Catherine Eastwood later wrote about the difficult experience for the national magazine the Saturday Evening Post.
This was just a few years after Forest Servicemen Harry Bedal and Harold Engles climbed the 6,780-foot peak, packed in dynamite and then blasted off the top of Three Fingers in order to build the fire lookout cabin.
That story and many others are to be offered up when the Darrington Historical Society presents “Lightning & Loneliness,” a history of the Darrington Ranger District fire lookouts, the buildings and the people who staffed them.
The presentation is set for 1:30 p.m. Sunday at the Mansford Grange, 1265 Railroad Ave., north of the IGA grocery store in Darrington.
Doors open at 12:30 p.m. for coffee and sharing, the slide-show presentation starts at 1:30 p.m. and another sharing time follows. People planning to attend are asked to bring along their photos, memorabilia and stories.
It is rumored that several old-timers plan to be there to share their experiences, said Scott Morris, a member of the historical society.
“We have a lot of fire lookouts in the area and a lot of legendary characters to talk about,” Morris said. “Half the great stories you hear about Darrington involve a fire lookout or something that happened on the way to a lookout.”
Included will be the escapades of forester and artist Nels Bruseth, a fire watcher who worked at the lookout on 7,150-foot Pugh Mountain near Monte Cristo. The story goes that Bruseth ran down the 6-mile trail from the lookout every Saturday night so he could take his girlfriend to the dance in Darrington. After the weekly social event, he would head back up the mountain to be back on the job by dawn.
The Pugh Mountain lookout was later destroyed by lightning, Morris said.
The old lookouts have been back in the news lately because of a lawsuit brought by a Montana-based environmental group against the Forest Service over the Green Mountain lookout in the Glacier Peak Wilderness.
Wilderness Watch alleges that officials with the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest violated the federal Wilderness Act and National Environmental Policy Act, which restricts motorized equipment in Wilderness areas, when the Green Mountain lookout was restored with the help of a helicopter, among other alleged violations.
The lawsuit has angered regional hiking groups whose members have helped maintain mountain lookouts throughout northwest Washington.
The Green Mountain lookout was originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933 as part of the forest fire detection system in the North Cascades.
Like many other lookouts, the use of Green Mountain for fire detection has declined as aerial fire detection has become more prevalent.
For more information about the presentation or the Darrington Historical Society, contact Leah Tyson at 360-436-0675.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldent.com.


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