Catskills evenings are magical on a clear night with a few planets in alignment and an inky sky bursting with stars. They’re even more magical when viewed from a fire tower of which there are five in the Catskills. Fire towers are equipped with cabins at their apex and these cabins were manned (can we say personned now?) to watch for fires in the Catskills that are common around May when the grass, having been covered and deadened during winter, hasn’t yet sprung to life. The foliage is also still very dry and wildfires are common.
On Friday September 2nd, witness the 3rd Annual Lighting of the Fire Towers when from 9 to 9.30pm, we are invited to find a place with a view of a fire tower (or towers) on the horizon and watch their cabin light up the night sky.
According to the Catskill Center: this event is “meant to showcase the history of the five Catskill fire towers that were watching faithfully like beacons over your property for years to help prevent forest fires. The men and women who were in those cabs were there to protect your property from forest fires by providing fire fighters with an early detection and reporting system that was amazingly accurate”.
Last year, I tried to climb a fire tower, but my legs co-incidentally stopped working as I climbed it. Read the riveting account of my epic failure here. As I mentioned in that article, for about a century, there were 19 fire towers dotted around the Catskills with observers watching for forest fires, but in 1980, the State of New York began to phase them out. In 1990, the last observer ended his watch in the Catskills at the Red Hill Fire Tower in Claryville. Over time, the towers and their associated observers’ cabins began to deteriorate, and those that were not dismantled were closed to the public for safety reasons. You can still find remnants of the old structures in places like Graham Mountain and Belleayre.
The Catskill Center has a few places where you can observe a lit fire tower here.