Something Even Better?

Something Even Better?

photo – Stuart Gradon Calgary Herald

Something Even Better than working on a lighthouse?

In an email with an ex British Columbia (BC) lighthouse keeper he mentioned that he was going to work in Alberta, Canada as a Fire Tower Lookout!

What does that have to do with lighthouses?

A lot from many people’s perspective! Both jobs have the isolation and romance that a lot of people seek in a job. When I was younger I know it was always in the back of my mind.

Again the same questions pop up – Wouldn’t it be lonely? What about wild animals? What happens if you hurt yourself? These and many more questions are asked, but to the adventurous, it is part of the adventure. Anyways, take a look at the photo at the top – that is an Alberta lookout tower but not as you or I probably imagined it – sitting on the ground!

The photo is taken from a 2011 story by Calgary Herald reporterJamie Komarnicki Mystery and mountains: A look at Alberta forest fire spotters

I am sixty-seven and my friend told me that even I was not too young to go work one of the towers, but from reading the rest of the article I hear the competition is great – a lot of people have the dream just like those that want to be lighthouse keepers. This part of the article was most interesting to me:

Provincial wildfire detection coordinator Tim Klein described the job as 90 per cent boredom and 10 per cent chaos. One of my favourite quotes of the story came when I asked Klein about the romance often associated with the working life at these solitary outposts (captured in fiction with Beat legend Jack Kerouac’s novel, Desolation Angels,  which he wrote as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak). – click here or the title above to read the full story

For those of you who wish to find out more information, here is the link to apply: for the Alberta  Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) Job Classification as Lookout Observer.

The above page gives you General Information and salary, Position Qualifications, Roles and Responsibilities, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and the most important one – How to Apply!

I know that this FAQ will interest you as it did me:

What is provided at the lookout site?
The facilities include the main house, which comprises:
a combination living room/kitchen
a small separate room for an office
a small bedroom
There is a small propane refrigerator, stove and heater. The propane is provided. There is an engine house where the power plant is located and an outhouse.
The lookout tower itself may be 6 m (20 ft.) to 36 m (120 ft.) in height or a cabin type with access through a hole in the ceiling (see my question above about wild animals). The average tower height is 30 m (100 ft.).
You are responsible to insure that the house and related facilities are kept in a neat and clean condition at all times. As well, most sites have a small shed for miscellaneous storage.
There is no running water. Rain water is collected in barrels and boiled for washing. Bathing/shower facilities are usually the result of individual ingenuity. Groceries are not provided. Drinking water is provided.

 So, it is a lot like living on a lighthouse except for the hole in the ceiling access!

Alberta ESRD   Active Fire Weather Stations


And here is a list of Active Fire Weather Stations. This list includes the Lookout Towers (maybe not all of them as I could not find Limestone Lookout here) as well as Automatic Stations, Ranger Stations, Contract Stations and Alberta (AB) Agriculture Stations. Some of the stations have links – if you know of more, please let me know and I will add them.


ID Station Name Station Type
AC Adams Creek Lookout Tower
AD Adair Lookout Tower
AL Algar Lookout Tower
AM Amber Lookout Tower
AN Ansell Lookout Tower
AT Athabasca Lookout Tower
AU Aurora Lookout Tower
B1 Highwood Automatic Station
B2 Willow Creek Automatic Station
B3 Yaha Tinda Automatic Station
B4 Kananaskis Boundary Automatic Station
B5 Peter Lougheed Park Automatic Station
B6 Burnt Timber Automatic Station
B7 Elbow Automatic Station
B8 North Ghost Automatic Station
BC Basset Lookout Tower
BD Bald Mountain Lookout Tower
BE Berland Hills Lookout Tower
BF Buffalo Lookout Tower
BH Blue Hill Lookout Tower
BI Birch Mountain Lookout Tower
BL Baseline Lookout Tower
BM Bitumont Lookout Tower
BN Buckton Lookout Tower
BP Barrier Lake Lookout Tower
BR Battle Riiver Lookout Tower
BS Bison Lake Lookout Tower
BT Blackstone Lookout Tower
BY Baldy Lookout Tower
BZ Brazeau Lookout Tower
C1 Livingston Gap Automatic Station
C2 Castle Automatic Station
C3 Poll Haven Automatic Station
C4 Blairrmore Automatic Station
C5 Cypress Hills Automatic Station
CA Cinchaga Lookout Tower
CB Carbondale Lookout Tower
CC Carrot Creek Lookout Tower
CE Cline Lookout Tower
CF Cambrian Lookout Tower
CH Clear Hills Lookout Tower
CK Conklin Lookout Tower
CL Calling Lake Ranger Station
CM Chisholm Lookout Tower
CP Cowpar Lake Lookout Tower
CT Copton Lookout Tower
CU Cadotte Lookout Tower
CY Chipewyan Lakes Lookout Tower
DG Doig Lookout Tower
DM Deer Mountain Lookout Tower
DW Deadwood Lookout Tower
E1 Wildhay Automatic Station
E2 Schwartz Creek Automatic Station
E3 Casket Mountain Automatic Station
E4 Hinton Automatic Station
E5 Grande Cache Automatic Station
EA Eagle Lookout Tower
EC Economy Creek Lookout Tower
ED Edra Lookout Tower
EH Enilda Lookout Tower
EL Ells River Lookout Tower
ER Elk River Ranger Station
F1 Picadelly Automatic Station
F2 Ponderosa Automatic Station
F3 Lambert Automatic Station
F4 Whitesands Automatic Station
F5 Bistcho Lake Automatic Station
FA Ft Assiniboine Ranger Station
FG Foggy Mountain Lookout Tower
FO Fontas Lookout Tower
FT Flat Top Lookout Tower
FV Fort Vermilion Ranger Station
G1 Kakwa Automatic Station
G2 Mistanusk Automatic Station
GD Grovedale Ranger Station
GE Grande Lookout Tower
GF Grave Flats Lookout Tower
GL Gordon Lake Lookout Tower
GM Goose Mountain Lookout Tower
GT Gift Lake Lookout Tower
HB Hailstone Butte Lookout Tower
HC Hines Creek Ranger Station
HH Hawk Hills Lookout Tower
HK Hotchkiss Lookout Tower
HL Heart Lake Lookout Tower
HM House Mountain Lookout Tower
HU Huckleberry Lookout Tower
IM Imperial Lookout Tower
IS Ironstone Lookout Tower
JE Jean Lake Lookout Tower
JM Junction Mountain Lookout Tower
JO Johnson Lake Lookout Tower
KA Kakwa Lookout Tower
KE Keg Lookout Tower
KG Keg River Ranger Station
KK Kananaskis Lookout Tower
KM Kimiwan Lookout Tower
L1 Bovine Creek Automatic Station
L2 Ground Zero Automatic Station
L3 Dunkirk Automatic Station
L4 Legend Automatic Station
L5 Keane Automatic Station
LA Lambert Creek Lookout Tower
LC Lacorey Ranger Station
LG Legend Lookout Tower
LK Livock Lookout Tower
LN Loon River Contract Station
LO Lovett Lookout Tower
LV Livingstone Lookout Tower
MB Mayberne Lookout Tower
MC McLennan Ranger Station
MH Mockingbird Hill Lookout Tower
MN Meridian Lookout Tower
MO Moberly Lookout Tower
MQ Muskwa Lookout Tower
MR Marten Mountain Lookout Tower
MS Moose Mountain Lookout Tower
MU Muskeg Mountain Lookout Tower
MY Mayberne Lookout Tower
NL Narrow Lakes Lookout Tower
NM Nose Mountain Lookout Tower
NO Notikewan Lookout Tower
OB Obed Lookout Tower
OJ High Level Ranger Station
OL Otter Lake Lookout Tower
P1 Basnet Automatic Station
P2 Jackpine Automatic Station
PA Panny Lookout Tower
PD Petitot Lookout Tower
PL Porcupine Lookout Tower
PO Ponton Lookout Tower
PS Pass Creek Lookout Tower
PU Puskwaskau Lookout Tower
R1 Clearwater Automatic Station
R2 Ram Falls Automatic Station
R3 Elk River Automatic Station
R4 Kootenay Plains Automatic Station
RE Red Earth Lookout Tower
RH Round Hill Lookout Tower
RI Richardson Lookout Tower
RK Rock Island Lake Lookout Tower
RR Raspberry Ridge Lookout Tower
RT Rainbow Lookout Tower
RY Rocky Lookout Tower
S1 Salteaux Automatic Station
S2 Marten Hills Automatic Station
S3 Doucette Automatic Station
S4 Kinuso Automatic Station
S5 Loon River Automatic Station
SA Saddle Hills Lookout Tower
SC Sneddon Creek Contract Station
SD Swan Dive Lookout Tower
SG SugarLoaf Lookout Tower
SI Simonette Lookout Tower
SK Smoky Lookout Tower
SL Smoky Lake AB Agriculture
SN Snuff Mountain Lookout Tower
SO Shining Bank Contract Station
SP Salt Prairie Lookout Tower
SQ Sandy Lake Lookout Tower
SR Sand River Lookout Tower
ST Stony Mountain Lookout Tower
SV Steen Lookout Tower
SW Sweathouse Lookout Tower
SY Smith Ranger Station
TM Trout Mountain Lookout Tower
TO Tom Hill Lookout Tower
TP Teepee Lake Lookout Tower
TR Torrens Lookout Tower
TT Talbot Lake Lookout Tower
TY Tony Lookout Tower
VG Vega Lookout Tower
W1 Freeman Automatic Station
W2 Eta Lake Automatic Station
W3 Meekwap Automatic Station
W4 Windfall Automatic Station
W5 Fox Creek Automatic Station
W6 Timeu Creek Automatic Station
W7 Berland Hills Automatic Station
WB Wabasca Ranger Station
WC Whitecourt Lookout Tower
WD Whitemud Lookout Tower
WF Whitefish Lookout Tower
WI Winefred Lookout Tower
WM White Mountain Lookout Tower
WR Wandering River Ranger Station
WT Watt Mountain Lookout Tower
WU Wadlin Lookout Tower
YA Yates Lookout Tower
YH Yellowhead Lookout Tower
ZA Zama Lookout Tower

And last but not least, here is another story by Stuart Gradon on the Alberta Lookout Towers with more photos and video.

[private]Fire lookouts in Alberta

August 22, 2011. 12:34 pm 

Chip McCullough at the Barrier Lake fire lookout tower in western Alberta Tuesday, August 16, 2011. Photo: Stuart Gradon, Calgary Herald
Chip McCullough at the Barrier Lake fire lookout tower in western Alberta Tuesday, August 16, 2011. Photo: Stuart Gradon, Calgary Herald

Posted by: 

I recently wrapped up work on a weekend story by Herald reporter Jamie Komarnicki on fire lookouts in Alberta. It involved traveling out to a couple of lookouts in the Kananaskis Country. We ended up hiking up to the Kananaskis lookout, which is manned by Joe Burritt, and hitching a ride on a supply transport helicopter to the Barrier Lake lookout, where Chip McCullough keeps watch.

cal0803 sg a51 Fire lookouts in Alberta
Fire lookout Joe Burritt in Kananaskis Country in western Alberta Wednesday, August 3, 2011.Photo: Stuart Gradon, Calgary Herald


The people who man these posts serve as the first lines of defense guarding against forest fires. The solitary lifestyle of these sentinels seems to breed characters. And is sometimes the case with such subjects, their personalities manifest themselves in the clothes they wear – McCullough with his newsboy cap and wool cardigan, Burritt with is white cowboy hat. All good things for a photographer who’s searching for effective portrait images.

Throw in the fact that the images were captured on mountaintops and you have the perfect ‘environmental portrait’ storm, so to speak. I’m sure most photographers would agree that the Rocky Mountains have a consistent and appealing tendency to serve as an excellent backdrop for pictures.

cal0816 sg a81 Fire lookouts in Alberta
An aerial view of the Barrier fire lookout tower in Kananaskis Country in western Alberta Wednesday, August 17, 2011. Photo: Stuart Gradon, Calgary Herald


The Rockies also added a little something extra to the mountaintop video interview with McCullough – using a video capable DSLR camera, a Canon 1D mark IV, equipped with a long lens and a wireless mic. The equipment allowed for the camera to be placed at distance, producing a virtual video portrait – a more attractive result than the standard talking head.

I’ll echo the soft-spoken, simple sentiment expressed by fire lookout veteran McCullough when describing his place of work.

“I really like these mountains,” he says. “I really like them. I like them a lot.”

Video: Chip McCullough mans the Barrier Lake fire lookout

cal0816 sg a31 Fire lookouts in Alberta
Chip McCullough at the Barrier Lake fire lookout in the area of Kananaskis Country in western Alberta Tuesday, August 16, 2011. Photo: Stuart Gradon, Calgary Herald


cal0803 sg a4a1 Fire lookouts in Alberta
Joe Burritt at the Kananaskis fire lookout tower in western Alberta Wednesday, August 3, 2011. Photo: Stuart Gradon, Calgary Herald


cal0816 sg a9a2 Fire lookouts in Alberta
The helicopter that served as transport for the Barrier fire lookout leg of the story is prepared for take-off near Bragg Creek, Alberta Wednesday, August 16, 2011. Photo: Stuart Gradon, Calgary Herald


cal0816 sg stuart4a2 Fire lookouts in Alberta
A photographer’s self-portrait in a chopper over Kananaskis Country in Alberta Tuesday, August 16, 2011. Photo: Stuart Gradon, Calgary Herald


And for the record, and in an admittedly self-indulgent move to recycle a couple of images from two years ago, this wasn’t my first Rocky Mountain chopper experience. In 2009 I hitched a ride on a helicopter to get images of a prescribed burn administered by forestry services in Kananaskis Country. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

px051 4ac7 9 Fire lookouts in Alberta
A prescribed burn near Bryant Creek, west of Spray Lakes, in Kananaskis Country Thursday, September 24, 2009. Photo: Stuart Gradon, Calgary Herald


px042 3abf 9 Fire lookouts in Alberta
A prescribed burn near Bryant Creek, west of Spray Lakes, in Kananaskis Country Thursday, September 24, 2009. Photo: Stuart Gradon, Calgary Herald [/private]
[private] Mystery and mountains: A look at Alberta forest fire spotters

August 21, 2011. 12:01 pm  

Barrier Lake Lookout
By Stuart Gradon

Posted by: 

Five years ago when I first moved to Calgary, I went on my first ever hike with some Herald journos up Moose Mountain. The top of the climb provided a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains for a new Calgary gal. It also took us to the door of the Moose Mountain fire lookout, where fire spotter Joe Burritt lived and worked. That summer was also the year that fire tower work Stephanie Stewart went missing from her Athabasca tower in a case where RCMP suspect foul play.

stephanie stewart Mystery and mountains: A look at Alberta forest fire spotters

Half a decade later, Stephanie’s disappearance is still a mystery. As I worked on Stephanie’s story, I also set out to write afeature looking at the lives of fire tower workers. Herald photographer Stuart Gradon and I had the chance to visit a couple lookouts, including a hike up to the Kananaskis tower where Joe Burritt – the fire spotter I’d first met at Moose Mountain five years ago – is now stationed. We also had the chance to take a helicopter ride up to the Barrier Lake lookout to interview Chip McCullough, another lookout veteran.

fire tower chopper2 Mystery and mountains: A look at Alberta forest fire spotters

Provincial wildfire detection coordinator Tim Klein described the job as 90 per cent boredom and 10 per cent chaos. One of my favourite quotes of the story came when I asked Klein about the romance often associated with the working life at these solitary outposts (captured in fiction with Beat legend Jack Kerouac’s novel,Desolation Angels,  which he wrote as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak).

“The whole makeup of the social aspect of being a human being is changed dramatically out there,” Klein said.

“You have to like yourself. You can’t go there to find yourself.”

Interested? Competition is stiff, I’m told, but here’s the link to apply. [/private]

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Retired (2001) British Columbia lighthouse keeper after 32 years on the lights.

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