The Fire Lookout Trees of Australia

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In many forest areas in the United States, Canada and Australia, there are fire lookout towers manned by persons called the "fire lookout" whose duty is to lookout for signs of wildfires in the wilderness, and report them so they can be quickly suppressed. A fire lookout tower is usually a small cabin located on the summit of a mountain or other high vantage point like a tall tree or a tower. In the early days, trees were often used as lookouts. There were plenty of tall trees around and all you had to do was attach a ladder to an existing tree. Sometimes, instead of a ladder metal rungs were pegged into the tree trunks to form a spiraling ladder up to a treehouse cabin high up in the canopy. The cabins were often equipped with telephones, fire finder tables, seats and guy wires. A tent or shelter at the bottom of the tree provided accommodation.

Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree

Photo credit: Jurriaan Persyn/Flickr (left) / Hannah/Flickr (right)

Lookouts trees were widely used in the early 20th century in the Kaibab National Forest of northern Arizona, and Washington, USA, and in Jarrah and Karri Forests in Western Australia. In the US, they were used until the 1960s after which they were replaced by steel or wooden towers. Many fire lookout trees fell into disuse and disappeared. Surviving ones have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In Australia, many karri trees were adapted as lookout trees in the 1930s and 1940s. At least three of them can still be climbed. One is still used as a fire lookout.

The Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree is located in in the Warren National Park, in Pemberton. At 75 meters, it is the tallest lookout tower in the world. It’s fairly recent though, being outfitted in 1988 as part of Australia’s bicentennial celebrations. There is a platform at the top which can be reached by climbing 165 metal spikes that were hammered into its trunk.

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Photo credit: Chia-Hsin Ho/Flickr

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Photo credit: Chia-Hsin Ho/Flickr

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Photo credit: Laurent/Flickr

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Photo credit: parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au

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Photo credit: parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au

Just 20 minutes away is the Gloucester Tree in the Gloucester National Park, also in Pemberton. The tree was turned into a lookout tree in 1947, and named after the then Governor-General of Australia, the Duke of Gloucester, who was visiting Pemberton as the lookout was being built. Today, visitors can climb up 61 meters via 153 metal spikes to see one of the most spectacular views of the Karri forest.

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Photo credit: Miss Shari/Flickr

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Photo credit: John Goodridge/Flickr

The third lookout tree in Pemberton is located between the towns of Manjimup and Pemberton, and can be reached from either town by a 15 minute drive on the Southwest Highway. The Diamond Tree is 51 meters tall and has a wooden viewing platform at the top. It was built in 1939, and is the oldest wooden platform fire look-out still in use today by the Department of Environment & Conservation to support aerial surveillance.

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Photo credit: Huy Thai/Flickr

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Photo credit: Amanda Slater/Flickr

Sources: Pemberton Visitor Centre / www.firelookoutsdownunder.com / Sydney Morning Herald

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