About 40% of wildfires within the Forest Protection Area of Alberta (which includes James River Retreat) are spotted each summer by observers stationed at 127 fire lookout sites. The lookouts are either alpine cabins located on mountaintops or steel towers built on high ground in the forest. The dedicated observers who staff these lookouts work for 30 to 180 days depending on their location and the season’s fire hazard. Each lookout operator keeps watch over an area slightly less than the size of Prince Edward Island. Complete observations of the area surrounding the lookout are made at least three times a day on low fire hazard days and almost continually during the day when the threat is high.
Limestone Mountain Fire Lookout, almost 50km due west of JRR, is nearest and dearest to us. Limestone Mountain can be seen from the Retreat and on a clear day with a good pair of binoculars you may be able to spot the lookout cabin at the summit.
With their spectacular views, lookouts make great day hike destinations and Limestone Mountain Lookout is no exception. For a great summer/early fall hike, check out The Passionate Hiker’s blog for a description of the road leading to the trailhead and the hike itself. If you go, remember that the lookout is the private residence of the staffer assigned to Limestone Mountain and you should keep a respectful distance unless invited to visit and sign the guestbook. And it never hurts to take along some fresh fruit or veggies and maybe even some chocolate as a gift for the dedicated soul who watches over our retreat for signs of fire.
Want to learn more about fire lookouts in Alberta and other parts of North America? Check out the website of the Forest Fire Lookout Association where you can find information galore, copies of Fire Lookout Hikes in the Canadian Rockies by Mike Potter (which includes another description of the Limestone hike) and other interesting reads.