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Lifestyles -

April 6, 2013

A view from above

Fire towers' views, history draw tourists


This was an era where great fires were a constant fear, especially in the cities, but also in heavily populated summer resort communities. The massive wooden structures and wood furnishings of the day could rarely be saved, even with the time’s best fire fighting equipment, and the timber provided fuel for hungry flames. Fire meant loss of human lives, livestock, homes, barns and businesses in a time when insurance policies were rare and large bank loans inconceivable. Prior knowledge of fire not only made the difference in lives for people and animals, but enabled firefighters to cut fire lines and set up water lines to keep the worst damage away from populated areas. 
The danger of fire was omnipresent from a variety of threats. Early electrical wiring and generators often malfunctioned, and the candles and oil lanterns they replaced were just as hazardous. Thick vegetation and dry weather in the summer laid a dangerous groundwork that could be set off by a spark from one of the many trains passing through the area, and fires set by hikers or campers sometimes burned out of control. Fire towers provided one of the best defenses the region had against this devastating and all-too-common threat. 
Today, the fire towers in the Catskill mountains offer a less utilitarian and more romantic appeal. These fantastic destination points lure visitors with spectacular views and a sense of history. 
When visiting fire towers, pack a picnic lunch, bring binoculars and a camera, along with windbreaker apparel so you can enjoy your time on the site. Climbing fire towers is often risky or even prohibited; be sure to follow the laws and use good judgment, heeding all warnings. Whether the tower itself is accessible or if it even remains can be irrelevant, since the views that once gave them purpose will still remain. 

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