Sundance, WY – Since 2009, Barb Peterson has been staffing the Cement Ridge fire lookout tower on the SD/WY border in the Northern Hills.
“My favorite part about being a lookout is being outside, the solitude, the peace, the quiet and just watching the progression of the whole topography and environment around me. It’s also the teamwork and working with other members of the fire crew and fire lookouts,” said Peterson.
This year, the currently existing Cement Ridge fire lookout tower turns 75 years old.
The original Cement Ridge fire lookout was built between 1911 and 1913. At that time it was a one-room log cabin with a shingle roof. In 1921, a crow’s nest with a glassed-in house was constructed. A new lookout was built by the Civilian Conservations Corps and finished in 1941. This is the tower that you see today.
Peterson’s daily routine begins with putting together a weather report that is transmitted to the Interagency Great Plains Dispatch Center (GPC).
“Every fire lookout is a little different. I’m always pacing my catwalk. I’m always outside, if the weather permits, otherwise I’m inside pacing around and I’m always looking with just the bare eye. And about once every half hour, I’ll take the binoculars out and start looking long-range.”
When a smoke is spotted, Peterson works the tower’s Osbourne fire finder (a big compass that sits on a pedestal with a map in the middle) and lines up the sights to narrow down where the smoke is. The smoke then gets called in to GPC and the closest fire resource is dispatched or sent to find the smoke.
Peterson continues radio communication with the ground crew to help guide them to the vicinity of the smoke. “The closer you can get the ground crew into that fire, the quicker they are going to be able to go into suppression,” said Peterson.
Peterson said every year varies for how long the lookout remains staffed. In drier years, it is staffed early spring into late fall.
“I absolutely love it. It’s the best job in the word. I have the best office, a 360 degree view and I get paid to go there.”
The lookout is considered eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and was listed on the National Historic Lookout Register on December 30, 1993.
For more information on the Black Hills National Forest, visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/blackhills.