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Gallery: Petersburg, Virginia Petersburg, Virginia

Westover Avenue House Fire

This house along the 1600 block of Westover Avenue in Petersburg caught fire on February 19, 2018.

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Dinwiddie, Virginia Gallery: Dinwiddie County, Virginia

Dewitt Fire Lookout

A retired fire lookout (observation) tower in Dewitt, Virginia.

Coordinates: 37.042014, -77.639823

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The history of fire lookout towers predates the United States Forest Service (which was founded in 1905). Many townships, private lumber companies, and State Foresty organizations operated fire lookout towers on their own accord.

In 1933, during the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt formed the “Civilian Conservation Corps” consisting of young men and veterans of World War One. It was during this time that the CCC set about building fire lookout towers, and access roads to those towers. The U.S. Forest Service took great advantage of the CCC workforce and initiated a massive program of construction projects, including fire lookout towers. In California alone, some 250 lookout towers and cabs were built by CCC workers between 1933 and 1942.

The golden age of fire lookout towers was from 1930 through 1950. During World War II, the Aircraft Warning Service was established, operating in 1942 and 1943. Fire lookouts were assigned additional duty as Enemy Aircraft Spotters, especially on the West Coast of the United States.

From the 1960’s through the 1990’s the towers took a back seat to new technology, aircraft, and improvements in radios. The promise of space satellite fire detection and modern cell phones tried to compete with the remaining fire lookout towers but in several environments, the technology failed.