Tower lighting pays homage to fire observers

About 20 people gathered atop Hurricane Mountain for the annual fire tower lighting Saturday night.

During the event, a lantern is lit inside the cab of the fire tower from about 9 to 9:30 p.m., making the tower visible from miles away. The idea is to raise awareness of the structure and pay homage to observers who worked in them decades ago.

The fire tower lighting is a statewide event that started in the Catskills six years ago with five fire towers participating. It has grown since then, and 19 fire towers were part of the Saturday event, said Laurie Rankin, director for the New York State Chapter of the Forest Fire Lookout Association. This was the second year of involvement for the Hurricane Mountain tower.

“This event is a great way to connect to the local community and to remember the important role fire towers held in those communities,” Rankin wrote to the Adirondack Explorer prior to the event. “It is not meant to be a hiking event, but rather an opportunity for those who do not hike to find a location (some sit on a friend’s deck, some at a pull off on a highway, some at a business) and look up and see the light!”

In the Adirondacks, numerous fire towers were lit, including ones on Snowy, Goodnow, St. Regis, Bald, Stillwater, and Blue Mountain Lake mountains.

Mary Jean Bland is on the nonprofit Friends of the Hurricane Mountain board of directors, and she hiked to the summit of Hurricane Saturday event to view the lighting. She said fire towers are very much a part of the local culture, and many nearby families have relatives who once worked in them.

“It’s amazing to me, the lantern can be seen in Elizabethtown and Keene,” Bland said

Fire spotting on Hurricane Mountain dates back to 1910, when observers were first assigned to the summit to watch for fires, according to the Friends of Hurricane Mountain website. Nine years later, a 35-foot fire tower was built on the summit. Observers worked on the mountain from spring to fall, from dawn to dusk, for the next 50 years. The Hurricane Mountain observers lived in a small cabin below the summit.

The tower closed in 1979, when the state Department of Environmental Conservation began to rely on air surveillance for spotting fires, according to the Friends of Hurricane Mountain website.

In 2001, the state recommended that fire tower be removed and the land designated primitive. This led to the public rallying around the fire tower. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, and the land underneath was eventually designated historic by the state Adirondack Park Agency in 2010. Volunteers have been working to restore the tower since then.

A full history of the fire tower can be found at the Adirondack History Museum in Elizabethtown, where there is currently an exhibit to celebrate its 100-year history.

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