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Czar Fire Lookout Tower

With the recent rains and fast-approaching green up of the forest, spring fire season is just about over for the Potosi-Fredericktown Ranger District. Even so, I thought it would be interesting to feature one of Mark Twain National Forest’s most interesting wildland firefighting tools – the fire lookout tower.

Construction of fire lookout towers on ridges and high points began as early as the late-1920s, in Missouri. Observers would be stationed in the lookout tower and would scan the horizon for smoke. The observer would record the direction and distance of the smoke and call this information into the fire dispatcher. Other tower lookouts would call in their distance and bearing estimates to the dispatcher, who would then plot the location of the fire and send out a call to the firefighters.

Czar Tower is located at the intersection of Highways C, V, and Y in Crawford County. It is a 100-foot tower made by the Chicago-based Aermotor Company and built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) about 1934. The tower is stabilized with four steel posts or legs attached to concrete footings. The plans called for the tower to be constructed in ten different sections, with the interior of each section consisting of stairs, railings and landings in the interior of the structure. Diagonals, main struts, stiffeners, and hangers comprise the exterior of each section. On top is the 7-foot-by-7-foot cab, which is accessed through a trap door in the floor.

Czar Tower is almost 85 years old. If one looks closely at the first section of the tower, historic graffiti can be found in the form of names and associated camps of the CCC who built the tower decades ago.

The CCC built several structures at Czar Tower to support early firefighting efforts. By 1936, the Towerman’s dwelling, the privy, and garage/woodshed were completed. The warehouse was added to the site about 1942 or 1943 and was built with salvaged materials from the Berryman CCC Camp. Next to the oil house is the original gas pump, which is a unique feature to Czar Tower.

Use of fire lookout towers has decreased over time across the United States. When and where available, aircraft and helicopters are used to locate wildfires. Mark Twain National Forest remains one of the few national forests in the eastern United States to still employ the use of fire towers and lookouts during periods of high fire danger. In my next article, I’ll share some firsthand experiences from Potosi Ranger Station employees who have served as modern day fire lookouts in Czar Tower.

Do you have a family member or friend who served as a fire tower lookout? We would enjoy hearing about their experiences and adventures.

The Potosi Ranger Station is open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. You can reach us by calling 573-438-5427. To receive updates on Mark Twain National Forest events and happenings, follow us on Twitter @marktwain_nf, and like us on our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/marktwainnationalforest.

Mark Twain National Forest – It’s All Yours.

Here is the tower in 1936.

Here is the tower in 1936.

Here is the tower in 1960.

Here is the tower in 1960.

Here is a present day photo of the Czar Tower. The tower is nearly 85 years old, but remains an active fire lookout tower used by Mark Twain National Forest.  The tower and associated buildings were constructed in the 1930s to support firefighting efforts in the Crawford, Iron, and Washington county area.

Here is a present day photo of the Czar Tower. The tower is nearly 85 years old, but remains an active fire lookout tower used by Mark Twain National Forest.  The tower and associated buildings were constructed in the 1930s to support firefighting efforts in the Crawford, Iron, and Washington county area.

Czar Tower is nearly 85 years old, but remains an active fire lookout tower used by Mark Twain National Forest. The tower and associated buildings were constructed in the 1930s to support firefighting efforts in the Crawford, Iron and Washington county area. This photo is from 1934.

Czar Tower is nearly 85 years old, but remains an active fire lookout tower used by Mark Twain National Forest. The tower and associated buildings were constructed in the 1930s to support firefighting efforts in the Crawford, Iron and Washington county area. This photo is from 1934.

Becky Ewing is the district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service Mark Twain National Forest, Potosi-Fredericktown Ranger District

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