Haytors Knob Fire Tower

Once a Wildland Firefigher, Always a Wildland Firefigher.

At least that’s how we feel in our hearts, and I’ve written about this in a previous post.

It’s been over 30 years since I worked a fireline, but when I saw this fire tower at the halfway point of our 6 mile hike to The Channels, I felt that old firefighter excitement deep inside.   The tower, built in 1939 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, was registered with the National Historic Lookout Registry in 2014.

According to the Registry, the tower construction materials were carried to the construction site on mules and on men’s backs.

When laying underneath, and looking up through the stairs, it truly seemed that the tower was moving against the clouds and sky.

Per the registry, the tower commands a view of over 60 miles on a clear winter day and fewer than six feet when the fog settles over the mountain.  Research did not reveal the height of the tower, but for some reason 100ft seems about right.  Oh, how I wanted to climb it but between the sign that said “No Climbing”, the lack of time, stairs (and probably the lack of muscle), I didn’t get very far.

The tower was in use from 1939 until the spring of 1970, and was the inspiration for a book called Fire Tower by Jack Kestner.  The late author wrote this adventure story in 1960 after serving as a lookout himself at the Hayters Knob fire tower.  “With this book, Jack honored the men and women of the Virginia Division of Forestry (now the Department of Forestry) who work tirelessly to protect lives and property during fire season”.

The tower itself is in much better shape than the cabin once used by the former lookouts.

As we turned to head back down the mountain, I took one last wistful look behind me.

The heart of a firefighter remains.


See the previous post for more about the hike to the top of The Channels.

The next post will reveal images of the sandstone formations that give The Channels it’s name.

38 Boots 19 Lives


Almost 30 years ago, I was a firefighter.  Once a firefighter, always a firefighter, even if just in my heart and in my memories.  I loved everything (well, almost everything) about that job.

The adrenalin rush when the call came

The drive / hike / flight to the location

The sights, smells, and feel of fire

And then there’s the work.  Back breaking work.  Digging fire line; putting out hot spots; mopping up; feeling the ground for heat.

The soot, found later, on almost every part of the body and in almost every orifice.

The post fire meal of steak or burger, and beer.

 Whether a Groundpounder, a Smoke Jumper, or on a Helitack crew, fire fighters can’ t wait to get out there and battle the fire.

Thirty years ago, we didn’t see massive fires like we do now.  I never fought against such destruction and devastation.  I was aware of the danger, and practiced getting into my “shake and bake” fire tent during training.  But I truly didn’t worry when I went out on a fire.

Perhaps that is the benefit of being young.

I wear my firefighting boots when I ride.  I’ve shown my friends the drops of retardant still visible after all these years.  Those boots carried me up and down the mountains of northern Idaho then, and they protect me as I ride the bike now.


After 30 years, I’ve had to have the boots repaired a few times and I always make sure that the cobbler knows not to remove the history

The signs of wear,


the still visible fire retardant,


and the miles I’ve worn them, whether on the ground or on the bike.


I look at this picture from 1982, of myself with my buddies and dear friends, Kevin and Randy.  Look how YOUNG we were.   Randy, a 30 year smoke jumper who just retired last year knows and lived the danger.  Me? I thought of it as the best job ever, but I never really felt the danger.

I see us in this photo and realize that at 21 to 23 years of age, we were the same age of many of the young men who died on the Yarnell Hill Fire.


We can argue the reasons for the tragedy:

triple-digit temperatures, erratic winds, and dry conditions that caused the fire to explode;

years of fire suppression that increased the fuel on the ground

the building of homes too close to that fuel

budget cuts

But what really matters is that 19 wildland firefighters are gone.


The Granite Mountain Hotshots

Andrew Ashcroft – Age 29

Robert Caldwell – Age 23

Travis Carter – Age 31

Dustin Deford – Age 24

Christopher Mackenzie- Age: 30
Eric Marsh – Age: 43
Grant McKee- Age: 21

Sean Misner – Age: 26
Scott Norris – Age: 28
Wade Parker- Age: 22
John Percin- Age: 24
Anthony Rose – Age: 23
Jesse Steed – Age: 36
Joe Thurston – Age: 32
Travis Turbyfill- Age: 27
William Warneke – Age: 25
Clayton Whitted – Age: 28
Kevin Woyjeck – Age: 21
Garret Zuppiger – Age: 27

To Donate to help cover costs for funerals, and family / survivors, please see the website for the Wildland Firefighter Foundation