2022 FFLA Western Regional Conference

Oregon Lookouts


VFW Post – Enterprise, OR


September 16-18, 2022

About the FFLA.

The FFLA stands for Forest Fire Lookout Association and was founded in 1990 by a small gathering of enthusiasts. It has since grown to over 1,400 members across multiple local chapters within the states. Its main goal is to help spread awareness and advocate for the protection, restoration, and maintenance of historical Fire Lookouts. This is accomplished through grants, donations, and the partnership of volunteers, local public groups, and government agencies such as the Forest Service.

Trip Report.

It has been two years since the last FFLA conference was held due to the Pandemic and six years since it’s been in Oregon. I wasn’t a member nor was I even aware of the Forest Fire Lookout Association at that time. I didn’t even visit my first Fire Lookout until 2017 (post). This particular conference was also important since it would be the first with their new chairman. I originally wasn’t going to go due to prior plans for that weekend, but things changed and I decided to commit to going by myself. I was a bit nervous since I would not know anyone there and would likely be younger than most. I also had no background in Forestry or Fire Lookouts to offer besides the fact that I found them interesting and wanted to be more involved. My partner was going to be out of town on his annual week-long camping trip with his dad. I was relieved when he decided to change around his plans a bit to meet me there. I have no problem traveling on my own or visiting places alone, but the social interactions are what made me the most nervous. My partner could talk for hours about Fire Lookouts and their history. He also has a better memory for it than I do. I didn’t have confidence that my own knowledge and interest would hold on its own.

This year the conference was being held in Enterprise, Oregon. My partner would be driving separately from their camp in the Ochoco NF to meet me at the Wallowa Lake State Park. And I would be heading over from Portland mid-day Thursday. It is roughly a 5-1/2 hour drive from Portland to Enterprise and closer to 6 hours to Wallowa Lake State Park. As the conference drew near, we were both contemplating whether we should still go or if it would even still happen. The Double Creek Fire had recently taken off and was currently burning at 155,297 acres with 15% containment (source). There were also the smaller Nebo, Sturgill, and Goat Mountain Two Fires burning in the near by Eagle Cap Wilderness. These were all coming together to cause poor air quality and heavy smoke for the area. Normally, these conditions would cause us to look for other plans. The FFLA didn’t seem too concerned though based on their updates and posts. The state park also had no notices or cautionary warnings about the fires. We figured if they cancelled our reservations that would be the final sign for us not to go. The cancellation never came and the air quality started improving by the day. We ultimately decided to go since the conference probably wouldn’t be held in Oregon for another few years. And it might be our only chance to meet some of these people in person. The weekend forecast called for rain and potential thunderstorms. I was hopeful the rain would be enough to dampen the smoke and that the thunderstorms would be minimal. I ended up working a lot later than expected on Thursday and didn’t make it to our camp until after 9PM.


We woke up extra early to give us enough time to make breakfast and head over for check-in around 8:30AM. I was worried about being there late, but we ended up getting there fairly early. We noticed they had muffins, fruit, and coffee set out for the members to enjoy (something that would have saved us some time this morning if we had known beforehand). I was thankful for the coffee since I didn’t have time to percolate any in camp. We found some seats and nervously waited for the conference to start. Bob Bonstead, the head of Friends of Blue Mountains Lookouts, was hosting the conference this year. I had e-mailed him earlier this summer looking for potential volunteer opportunities, but I was a bit too late to be apart of their planned work parties for the season. He started the conference by a short presentation and introduction to our new FFLA chairman, Brad Ells. We also individually introduced ourselves with a short description on where we were from and our background in Fire Lookouts. It was fun, and a bit weird, to finally match faces to well-known names in the community. I’ve read so much about some of these people I felt like I already knew them. Like I said, weird. After our introductions, the presentations began for the morning and were as followed.

Welcome/FFLA State of Affairs.

Ray Kresek’s Fire Lookout Museum.

Cougar Pass L.O. & Commercial/Residential Pole Lookout Construction.

Pilchuck Restoration Lessons Learned.

During one of the breaks between presentations, I overheard someone asking the check-in if someone named Garnet was here. He was in the bathroom at the time, but I stopped to see how or why they might be looking for my partner. The person who had asked was the Lookout Relief, Bob, for Desolation Peak and Table Mountain. He had heard about my partner through his group chat. My partner had visited Mt. Ireland L.O. the day before to help break up his drive to the area. He had met the Lookout Attendant, Warren, and his wife currently on duty. They apparently bonded about their interest in Fire Lookouts and talked for hours. Warren enjoyed it so much that he mentioned him in the group chat and Bob wanted to meet him too. Garnet eventually came back and I waved him down. They talked for a while, but we had to sit back down for a few more presentations. When the conference stopped to take a break for lunch they talked a bit more and exchanged numbers. It was too bad since Bob had to leave to be back on duty, otherwise we would’ve tried to get to know him more. After lunch the conference hosts lookout tours in the area starting at 1:30PM and then a dinner at 6:30PM. We had brought a lunch with us but needed to make a quick stop at the store, gas station, and decided to head back to camp to swap cars. This made us late for the tour caravan. We still managed to see two Fire Lookouts that evening though, one of which lead us to completely missing the taco dinner that night.

Tope Creek L.O.

Lookout Mountain L.O.


We continued our theme of being late this morning. We had decided to sleep in a bit since we knew there would be some food provided for breakfast this time, but we still had a hard time sticking to the schedule. We came in and quietly stood in the back while the former chairman gave a speech about the projections for the association. There were more people here today and less available chairs. Eventually, someone kindly waved us over between presentations and made room for us to sit the remainder of the time. The presentations for the day were as followed with a break in between.

FFLA Past & Future.

Hat Point L.O. and the Battle Creek Fire.

Piecing Together Olympic Fire Lookout Stories.

AI Software for AlertWildfire Camera System.

Geocaching Lookout Challenge.

Bootleg Fire Forest Management Differences.

Afterwards, we took an hour break for lunch before meeting back up for another lookout tour. We brought our lunch and stayed at the post to avoid being late again, besides making a quick run to refuel. A few other members stayed behind to eat their lunches as well. We had the pleasure of mainly talking and eating lunch with Leslie Romer, the author of Lost Fire Lookout Hikes and Histories: Olympic Peninsula and Willapa Hills. It’s always interesting to hear about someone’s background and what brought them to the Fire Lookout community. We checked out some of the items up for silent auction and by then it was time to head out for the tour. We followed the caravan to the lookout we’d be touring for the evening. There was potential for everyone to visit Elk Mountain which is private as well, but the rancher didn’t want any vehicles with a catalytic converter driving through the tall grass. This eliminated almost every vehicle there. We decided to make a stop over at another lookout on the way back. We would’ve tried for a third, but we didn’t want to miss out on another dinner. We were still a few minutes late, but made it in time to eat Pizza and hear some of the final presentations. The night ended with the conclusion of the silent auction. I won my bids on a framed snowy picture of Swiftcurrent L.O. in Glacier NP and two books, Biography of a Small Mountain by Donna Ashworth and A Well Worn Path by Jay H. Cravens. Garnet won his bid on the book How High the Bounty by Jessie Louetta Wright, but was out bid on a shirt.

Courtney Butte L.O.

Red Hill L.O.


The conference was hosting an all day tour to multiple Fire Lookouts in the area. Unfortunately, we had to drive home and didn’t have time to partake in this portion. They had plans to visit Hoodoo Ridge, Lookout Mountain, High Ridge, and Howard Butte. They also offered directions for additional Fire Lookouts in the area and alternative loop options if you wanted to make your own self-guided tours. We debated making a stop over at High Ridge L.O. on our way home, but we ultimately decided it was too much with the drive if we wanted to make it home at a relatively decent hour. It also started raining before we left which was another deterrent but a good sign for the wildfires.

My Thoughts.

Things Learned.

I learned quite a few different things during the conference that I found interesting. The first was that the white conduits you find in trees near existing or former Fire Lookouts that were used to string the telephone lines are from 1913 to 1929. The newer ones from 1929 to present are brown to help blend in with the environment. I also learned that it’s best to use an oil-based alkyd paint when refinishing a lookout, otherwise moisture can get trapped in the wood and create rot. The Rhino tool used by most fire crews now was invented by the FMO in the Umatilla NF, Gordon Reinhart, in the 1970s. The copper wiring on a Fire Lookout will look new when it’s been recently struck by lightning. And, unfortunately, the Double Creek fire currently burning in the Willowa-Whitman NF is the largest in that particular forests history.


There were two main weaknesses that I noticed the FFLA is facing right now. One is younger members and youth community outreach and the other is our societies reliance on technology, social media, and camera surveillance systems. A few members tried to bring up the topic and ideas to generate interest for younger members, but each time it seemed to be dismissed with a general response and no follow up. As some of the youngest people in the room it was a bit disappointing. I am sure it is a concern to the board members, but they seemed unsure on how to handle it. It’s a hard truth to face, but the association needs younger members to keep it alive. The second issue is a bit more complex. The presentation on the AlertWildfire Camera Systems was very informative and sparked a debate about lookouts versus cameras. I strongly agree that a Fire Lookout staffing a tower is more effective than just a camera, but trying to fight technology is a losing battle. Cameras will continue to be built and are here to stay, but I think there should be an attempt to change the narrative. Instead of us versus them, it should be viewed as an added tool and resource to Fire Lookouts. I understand that in some cases, like most of the ODF towers in Oregon, this has replaced people’s jobs. But, as the presentation showed camera detection is not accurate and can mistake clouds for smoke. It also showed that those staffing a Fire Lookout can have blind spots that could be spotted by cameras. Technology doesn’t always have to be the enemy. I know that’s easier said than done, especially working with government agencies that are already under funded and under staffed. Technology is also a helpful tool in reaching a younger generation that has grown up with it and heavily relies on it for information.

If you are interested in learning more about the FFLA or becoming a member, you can visit their website.

Courtney Butte L.O.

Oregon Lookouts


Wallowa County; Private property


Maintained; Currently standing

Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.

6-1/2 hours

Date visited.

September 17, 2022



National Historic Lookout Register.

US 1184; OR 128

Trip Report.

The Saturday lookout tour hosted by the FFLA Western Conference was to Courtney Butte. This is another Fire Lookout located on private property and requires prior permission by the land owner to visit. Similar to the day before, we were expected to meet back at the VFW post after our lunch break around 1:30PM. Garnet and I made a point not to be late this time. We drove the HR-V this morning and only left the post to make a quick trip out to refuel. Otherwise, we brought and ate our lunch there. We were ready this time when the caravan rolled out almost exactly at 1:30PM. From the post, we all took a right to head out of Enterprise on HWY-3 towards Flora Junction. We stayed on this highway for over 30 miles through alternating sections of National Forest and private land. At one point we passed a junction that pointed left towards the community of Flora. My partner pointed this out and questioned whether that was our turn. The caravan had continued straight though, so we followed them instead. I nit picked at the written directions they had given me. I rationalized that it didn’t specifically say “turn at Flora Junction”, just that we needed to head towards it. I figured since we passed it we were looking for the turn to Courtney Butte Lane now. Eventually, the highway started to head steeply down the canyon towards the Grande Ronde River. It didn’t feel like we should be going this far, or down for that matter, but we continued to blindly follow the caravan. As we were half way down the grade, the head of the caravan pulled over to turn around. Oops! They did in fact miss the turn back at Flora Junction. We all quickly fixed our mistake and turned around to head towards Flora once again.

From HWY-3, heading south-bound now, we turned right onto Flora Lane. We only stayed on this road for 1-1/2 miles before reaching the junction with Courtney Butte Lane. Flora Lane continues to the right to reach the Community of Flora. While, Courtney Butte Lane is straight on and will take you all the way to the ranch. The road turned to gravel here and became a dusty show with the caravan. We stayed on this road for around 5 miles before reaching the Fire Lookout. We only had to pause briefly to open and close the gate. I assume this was to make sure no cattle escaped during our visit. We all parked in a line near the tower and got out to start exploring the area. I started by walking around the tower to take pictures. The owners were there to give us a brief presentation on their lookout and what they’ve done with it. The railing had some custom designs on it, one of which was a rattlesnake. The owner said they had that made, not only because it was rattlesnake country, but because one of their dogs was bit by one twice while here. The tower had some add-ons to convert it into a more live-able space for guests and it looked like it was kept in great condition. The cab still had its Osborne fire finder and stand. While walking around on the catwalk, we ran into the Fire Lookout attendant that staffs Spodue Mountain L.O. on the Fremont-Winema NF. She asked if we had been at the conference the whole time and we told her that we had. I mentioned that we had met her counter part, Sharon, earlier this summer on Calimus Butte. The only reason we hadn’t made it over to Spodue Mountain during that trip was because we thought it was still apart of the fire closure area. She mentioned that she vaguely remembered Sharon talking about our visit.

After taking some more pictures on the catwalk and in the cab, they gathered the group on the stairs to take a few pictures with everyone. I took some more pictures at the base for good measure and we eventually felt like we had our fill of Courtney Butte. We decided to pull out a map of the area while we waited for people to start leaving. The closest option if we wanted to visit another Fire Lookout before dinner was Red Hill. Kirkland Butte was also very close to there and would be a good second option if we had enough time. We unfortunately were boxed in by the caravan of cars and had to wait for them to move. Most people weren’t heading on to another lookout after this, so there was no sense of urgency to leave. This was our own fault though for not trying to park in a better spot for leaving early. Some of the other cars started leaving, but we had to wait for almost all of them because we had been near the end. Finally, the last car in front of us was getting ready to leave and we were free to continue on to Red Hill.


In 1955, a 3-story enclosed ODF cab was built on the site of Courtney Butte. Prior to that, in the early 1950s, it was used for fire observation and the Ground Observer Corps station. It was regularly used by the ODF during emergencies into the early 2000s. The current owner mentioned that the ODF will still occasionally send someone up during thunderstorms. I am unsure when it changed hands to a private owner, but they have since modified and added to it for over-night stays. It’s not listed for public rental, but they let their friends and family stay in it. They seemed open to visitors as long as you get prior permission.