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Fire lookouts span eras, stay crucial in spotting wildfires

July 24, 2018

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Fire-lookout towers on remote peaks across the U.S. West may seem like quaint reminders of an era before satellites, smartphones and jet-propelled air tankers.

But their lofty views combined with good old-fashioned human observation make them a crucial part of the nation’s front-line efforts to stop wildfires.

The number of fire lookouts across the country peaked in the 1940s with as many as 5,000.

Only about 400 remain after the U.S. Forest Service started using aircraft and destroyed most lookouts rather than pay for continued repairs caused by harsh mountain elements. Most of the remaining lookout towers are scattered across the West.

Officials say they spot the majority of forest wildfires in areas they cover, and give firefighters crucial extra time to put them out before they spread.

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