Fire Towers set to be lit Saturday night to honor spotters that once worked inside them
You may see bright lights atop some of New York’s mountains Saturday night. Fire towers will be illuminated to honor those who once worked inside them.
After a series of devastating fires in the early 1900s across the Adirondacks and Catskills, New York began building more than 100 fire towers throughout the state. Spotters would climb the towers and maintain vigil for any signs of fires. By 1990, new technology made eyeballing for fires obsolete and all the towers had been decommissioned with the intent to dismantle the structures. A number have since been saved and restored.
Many of the remaining towers will be illuminated Saturday night during the tenth annual Lighting of the Fire Towers. National Forest Fire Lookout Association New York state chapter Director Laurie Rankin says the intent is to honor those who worked in the towers.
“One of the most frequently asked questions of volunteers that you may find at a fire tower is ‘why was this here?’ The coordinator at Red Hill Fire Tower in the Catskills, Doug Hamilton, was the one who thought wouldn’t it be great if we could light up the fire towers and have people in the communities understanding the importance of that tower looking over and protecting our communities and their homes,” Rankin said. “And that is kind of the premise behind the whole thing is to answer that question: why were fire towers here?”
Rankin explains that volunteers will hike to the towers and use varied means to illuminate the towers.
“Some people will use something like a high-powered flashlight,” Rankin said. “Some people will use battery-powered work lights. And each fire tower is a little bit different and unique as to its location and where it can be seen. They try to make sure that the lights would be visible for 360 degrees from any direction somebody might be looking up at.”
Adirondack Architectural Heritage is the fiscal sponsor for both the Friends of Hurricane Mountain and Poke-O-Moonshine Fire Towers. Executive Director Erin Tobin says the lighting event is a great way to bring attention and awareness to the history of fire towers.
“You can see, I’ll use Poke-O as an example, you can see the Poke-O fire tower as you’re heading really north or south on the Northway during the day,” Tobin said. “But the idea that these are lit up at night it really calls attention to how prolific they once were and why they were placed where they were. They were strategically located and I think that having them lit really highlights their location and that they’re still there and that they’re available to be climbed and to look at and as a piece of our history.”
The Catskill Center created the Catskill Fire Tower Project to restore the five remaining towers in the Catskill Park. Center Executive Director Jeff Senterman says the tower lighting is a natural fit with their efforts.
“It’s kind of a unique way to see the fire towers,” Senterman said. “At night with this lighting you get to have a one of a kind experience for this one evening. And I think it’s a great way to remind folks They played a key role in identifying and helping extinguish fires. They were key ways we protected our forests for many, many years.”
The lighting of the fire towers will occur between 9 and 9:30 Saturday night.