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2 historic fire lookouts go up in flames

2 historic fire lookouts go up in flames

Both built in 1930s, sites attracted hikers in Southern Arizona

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Two historic, treasured fire lookouts have been destroyed in a blaze of irony - burned by wildfires like the ones they were built to detect.

Flames of the Horseshoe 2 Fire consumed the Barfoot Lookout - perched at about 8,800 feet in the Chiricahua Mountains southeast of Willcox - as the fire expanded last Thursday. The fire has now burned through 116,024 acres.

The Atascosa Lookout - sited on a 6,249-foot summit northwest of Nogales - was destroyed Monday in a surge of what would become the Murphy Complex Fire. The fire, a merger of two fires, has now burned 67,525 acres.

"It's a shock to hear that it's gone," said Tom Johnson, a member of the Green Valley Hiking Club who had helped in restoration work on the Atascosa Lookout.

"It's sad," Johnson said. "It was an extremely popular destination for hikers, and it had a lot of history. Club members put a lot of work into restoration of the lookout."

HISTORIC ATASCOSA

The Atascosa Lookout, built between 1930 and 1933, was a 14-by-14-foot structure that served as an active fire-sighting post until the late 1970s. In that time period, improved aerial detection of fires led the U.S. Forest Service to stop staffing many lookouts.

It served as a summer roost for a string of solitary fire spotters, including the late author Edward Abbey, whose books included "Desert Solitaire" and "The Monkey Wrench Gang."

Abbey manned Atascosa during the 1968 summer fire season and described the lookout in one of his journals as a "flimsy old frame shack perched like an eagle's nest on a pinnacle of rock."

Hundreds of hikers had made the 2.75-mile trail ascent to the lookout. Many of them took a break inside or munched lunch in front of the building, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Members of the Green Valley Hiking Club, working with the Forest Service, had installed an improved roof, replaced broken windows, built a new front door, repaired a catwalk and completed many other tasks.

Firefighters, recognizing the historic and recreational value of the site, made an effort to protect it, said Jan Bardwell, an information officer for the Murphy Complex Fire.

"Sunday night or early Monday morning, they went up to the lookout and did a burnout," Bardwell said. "The burnout was successful, and they hoped it would be safe.

"But the fire came steaming up from the south on Monday afternoon and went right over the lookout," Bardwell said. "It was completely burned. I know people are upset and saddened that it's gone." A BIT ABOUT BARFOOT

The Barfoot Lookout in the Chiricahua Mountains, built in the 1930s, was still active at the start of this fire season.

It was valued not only as a lookout but as a prime destination for summer hikers looking for a cool aerie with breathtaking views.

The three-quarter-mile hike to the site brought trekkers to the lookout site on a steep-sided rock outcrop - affording views of vast expanses of the Chiricahuas, distant mountain ranges and intervening high deserts.

Forest officials said the structure had been wrapped in flame-retardant aluminum in an effort to protect it, but winds apparently opened a crack where embers could get in.

"The fire was extremely hot when it burned through that area, and the lookout was totally consumed," said Dave Killebrew, an information officer for the Horseshoe 2 Fire.

OTHER LOOKOUTS

The Lemmon Rock Lookout and Mount Bigelow Lookout - both in the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson - so far have been spared from destruction in forest fires.

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at dkreutz@azstarnet.com or at 573-4192.

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