The Fire Lookout Tower at Halsey National Forest recently received a much-needed renovation because of safety concerns. The aging Scott Lookout Tower, the only working fire tower in Nebraska, has been out of commission the last two years.
Originally built in the mid-1940s, this is the third tower to stand on this location. The previous two are believed to have been lost to fires. To bring the current tower up to code, workers replaced all of the wood steps and decking, replaced handrails, and reinforced the base with concrete. The tower was also reshingled and repainted.
Used by rangers to spot fire outbreaks during high danger seasons, the tower had been closed because of increasing safety issues. Lack of budget funds have kept the tower closed until this summer when repairs were finally allocated for. Meyers Construction in Merna won the bid for restoring the tower and is expected to complete work in the next couple of weeks.
The repaired tower will bring back a much needed tool to forest rangers for fighting fires in the country’s largest manmade forest. Seventy steps to the top, the main observation deck looms over the canopy allowing rangers to observe the 90,000 acres of the Bessey Forest District.
Observers man the tower during periods of critical fire danger. From the high altitude, forest service workers are able to spot smoke and direct fire personnel to suppress the hotspots before they get out of control.
Rangers use a device called an Osborne Fire Finder to determine directional bearing and lead fire crews to the wildfire. The great elevation of the tower also is a boon to communication, allowing workers to communicate in areas where cell phones may not have signal and landlines are nonexistent.