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Climbing the Highest Peaks to Spot Forest Fires

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

As outlined in previous Postcards, the prevention of fire on the newly established forest preserve was of “paramount importance,” according to a 1912 report by C. M. Granger, supervisor of the Medicine Bow National Forest. Also, the “lookout man” and “lookouts” were vital.

Granger’s report notes, “The primary lookout point is on top of the Snowy Range. This range is about seven miles long, and by visiting three peaks within a mile of each other at the highest part of the range, the lookout man can look down on 80 percent of the forest area.

“The lookout man lives at the foot of the range in a little cabin on the shore of Lookout Lake. Each morning about seven o’clock, unless it is raining or so foggy as to obstruct the view, he climbs from his cabin to the top of Medicine Bow Peak, the highest point on the range – 12,005 feet. From here he scans through nine-power binoculars all the north end of the forest. After making sure as to the presence or absence of suspicious smoke in the vicinity, he proceeds south along the top of the range about half a mile to another high point known as Lookout Peak and repeats the search for smoke on other portions of the forest. Then to make his observations complete, he goes to another point still further south which commands especially well the southwest corner of the forest.

“On top of the range immediately above the lookout man’s cabin and about midway between his three lookout points, there is an iron box telephone set. From this telephone to the cabin 1,000 feet below there is a single strand of very fine insulated copper wire, laid on the surface of the mountain side, being slightly raised on stone piers to keep the woodchucks from gnawing off the insulation and grounding the line. From the cabin to the supervisor’s office in Laramie, there are 42 miles of regular iron wire telephone line. It is a grounded circuit, and to get a ground on top of the peak it is necessary to run a ground wire several hundred feet to a swampy place in the rocks, water being scarce at this altitude. In addition to the line into Laramie, there are connecting lines, which put the lookout man in touch with all the ranger headquarters.

“It takes Miller, the lookout man, 40 minutes to climb to the first peak, and about an hour for him to make the complete round of the three points. So, within less than two hours in the morning 0.8 of the forest has been minutely examined for signs of fire. The watch is kept up throughout the day, and a fire could not start and gain any headway at all without almost instant discover by Miller.”

The report continues, “The lookout man has, in addition to his binoculars, a map of the entire forest and a standard needle compass. If he sights a smoke . . . ” 

Hold it right there, since that is fire for the next Postcard.

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