Cornwall lookout under threat

The historic fire lookout on top of Cornwall is slated to be demolished this fall.

The fire lookout on top of Cornwall is slated to be dismantled this fall.

BC Parks has announced plans to dismantle the historic fire lookout at the top of Cornwall Mountain. The dismantling is slated to take place in the fall of 2015, unless an organization or group of volunteers interested in maintaining the structure and holding liability for it steps forward.

Built in the late 1950s, the Cornwall fire lookout station was regularly manned each summer until the early 1990s, after which it was only used if there was a fire risk in the area. By 1999 it was the only Forest Service Lookout Tower in the Kamloops Fire District that was still active, if only intermittently. The last time the lookout was used was during the 2003 wildfire in the Cornwall Hills. Despite that, the building remains in good shape and is open to the public, who can record their names in a logbook kept inside.

Over the last few years many of these lookouts have been dismantled, as they are no longer used and the Fire Protection Service cannot manage and retain liability for them. In 2012 the provincial government, in partnership with local governments, community groups, businesses, individuals, and volunteers, restored fire lookout stations in Boston Bar, Terrace, Houston, Enderby, and Kaslo. They were chosen based on their location, accessibility, community use, and historical significance. Mike Apsey, President of the BC Forest Service Centenary Society, noted that while “Technological advances have lessened the use of lookouts . . . there is still a mystique attached to them that strikes a chord with the public.”

Local groups such as snowmobile and hiking clubs have been responsible for saving other decommissioned fire towers, by taking them over and maintaining them. Many of these lookout sites are popular with hikers and ATV users in summer, and with skiers and snowmobilers in the winter. The summit of Cornwall is also a popular destination for hang-gliding enthusiasts, and the Gold Country Communities Society has a geocache at the site.

Fire lookouts were the main way to detect fires for many decades, until they were largely supplanted by the use of spotter planes beginning in the 1960s. There appears to have been an informal fire lookout on the top of Cornwall since the 1890s, as the summit gives sweeping views in every direction. The current lookout tower is a standard cottage-roof cabin on top of a wooden tower. The base of the tower provided living accommodations for the person manning it, while the cabin—surrounded by a catwalk—was used for fire-spotting, with continuous windows on all four sides maximizing the surveillance capacity of a lone observer. It’s one of two predominant fire lookout formats constructed by the BC Forest Services between the 1920s and the late 1950s. While it’s not known how the material for the tower was brought to the site, it could conceivably have been by helicopter, as in 1957 the Nahatlatch Fire Lookout near Boston Bar was constructed from pre-fabricated materials brought in by helicopter. It took some 37 trips to bring all the material to the site, but proved that this was a viable means to construct fire lookouts in relatively inaccessible locations.

Those manning the lookout stations would scan the surroundings, paying attention to potential fire hazards and recent weather events. Since a “sleeper fire”—ignited below ground by lightning—could smoulder for several days with no visible signs, areas that could have sustained lightning strikes needed to be watched very carefully.

Any group interested in maintaining the lookout is asked to contact BC Parks at ParkInfo@Victoria1.gov.bc.ca. The Journal attempted to contact BC Parks at this address two weeks ago for more information; as of the date of writing, no response has been received.

Barbara Roden

Just Posted

Firefighters battling two blazes on Highway 1 south of Ashcroft

Highway has reopened to single-lane, alternating traffic led by a pilot car so expect delays

Fires on Highway 1, CN mainline keep Ashcroft firefighters busy

Two vehicle fires and a rail fire sparked within an 11-day span

Reports on seniors’ needs, downtown show way forward for Cache Creek

‘I hope they won’t gather dust’ says Cache Creek mayor

Counselling support available for those impacted by wildfires

New, confidential, free service in region designed for families or individuals

Local News Briefs: Come out and rock

Join Rawkn’ Art Camp participants as they show off their accomplishments, and stay for a concert

Disney Plus to launch in Canada in November

Analysts say latest streaming service may escalate cord cutting

B.C. manhunt suspects left cellphone video before they died: family

Family member says Kam McLeod, Bryer Schmegelsky recorded final wishes

Okanagan bus driver assaulted for asking patron not to smoke

59-year-old in hospital with non-life threatening injuries

B.C. sets rules for ride hailing, same minimum fee as taxis

Larger operating areas seen as threat by cab companies

Two hiking families team up to extinguish fire in B.C. backcountry

Children and their parents worked for three hours to ensure safety of the popular hiking region

Vancouver man arrested after pregnant woman’s SUV stolen, then crashed

Police are recommending charges against a 22-year-old Vancouver man

Elections Canada to assess ‘partisan’ climate change rhetoric case by case

People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier has said climate change is not an emergency nor caused by human

Unseasonable snow forces campers out of northeastern B.C. provincial park

Storm brought as much as 35 centimetres of snow to the Fort Nelson, Muncho Lake Park-Stone Mountain Park

Most Read