Life in a Fire Lookout

They saw it coming: the mushroom cloud of smoke.

Dabney Tompkins and Alan Colley were on their deck taking pleasure in the view when Stouts Creek Fire broke out previously this month. They ‘d check out minutes like this– identifying a forest fire from a 40-foot-high tower — however absolutely nothing might have prepared them.

They weren’t staffing a fire lookout, after all. They were at house.

Treehouse without the tree

Tompkins and Colley’s lives altered course on a ferryboat flight a number of years earlier. Rather actually coming across a book about fire lookouts utilized by the U.S. Forest Service, they found out how the structures on stilts were utilized to identify forest fires throughout the 20th century. Now mainly changed by satellites, extremely couple of lookouts are still standing.

Tompkins and Colley, who had actually scaled down from their huge Dallas estate to 1,400 square feet in Portland, would like to know more.

” It was a wonderful minute that the book sort of fell off the rack to us,” Colley remembers. “We called the ranger district and stated why do not we lease this thing? That was the start.”

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Alan Colley (left) and Dabney Tompkins would not trade their life above the trees for anything.

The city slickers leased a number of fire lookouts prior to buying 160 acres of meadow and forest land in rural Oregon, called Top Meadow. With the assistance of a regional contractor and engineer, their “treehouse without the tree” was finished in 2010.

For the very first couple of years, it was simply a weekend trip, however those weekends rapidly developed into something more.

” About a year and half earlier, we chose to be completely reckless and stop our tasks and move here,” Tompkins describes. “We were simply going to do it for one year due to the fact that we believed this may simply be too separated, too uninteresting, too rustic. However then we came down here and we began to fulfill individuals and truly delight in the rhythm of it.”

Life on the meadow

Up 4 flights of stairs, the lookout is 388 square feet with a basic kitchen area covering the back wall and 2 narrow beds flanking the sides. Up a slim wood ladder, a “cupola” works as a master suite– minus the restroom.

In reality, there’s no restroom to be discovered. Historical fire lookouts never ever had them, and Tompkins and Colley didn’t wish to block their 360-degree view of the Umpqua National Park. Rather, they produced a couple of alternative choices and put the shower out on the deck.

” My preferred time to shower is when we have snow outdoors and you need to stroll barefoot through the snow on the deck,” Tompkins states. “Then you turn that warm water on which yin and yang of cold and hot– and watching out and seeing the meadow– it’s paradise.”


Source: Alan Colley

Without the high-ends of a normal single-family house, Tompkins and Colley discover themselves pulling away to the “hammock tree” or taking in their wood-burning, spring-fed jacuzzi.

” It’s peaceful — so peaceful it permits me to hear things I would not hear in the city,” Colley states. “There’s no metropolitan beat. You do not hear sirens, you do not hear traffic– you hear us. There’s absolutely nothing like that.”

He states the experience has actually brought him and Tompkins more detailed, as they have actually permitted each other to grow and be various.

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A taste of ‘off the grid’

They’re likewise discovering what it genuinely implies to live off the grid, discovering you typically acquire more than you lose.

” The stating we like to inform each other is ‘even if we live off-grid does not suggest we need to consume bad food.’ And we have actually made some fantastic meals,” Colley states after making a blueberry pie from scratch.

Rather of purchasing natural fruit and vegetables from the supermarket, they have their own garden and are included with the regional farmers market.

Naturally, living off-grid has its obstacles– like finding out how to set up photovoltaic panels– however the most significant difficulty came as a surprise.

” We’re so enmeshed in this neighborhood, as unusual as that might sound, that we truly need to retreat and state I simply desire time on my meadow,” Colley states.

From vegan meals with the “old hippies,” as they call the next-door neighbors, to trying to find methods to promote a regional economy still depending on wood, Tompkins and Colley are keeping hectic.

The view that never ever gets old

They laugh when they think of how they utilized to stress over being separated and tired.

” Reading, cooking, treking and splitting wood are far more amusing to us,” Colley states. “If you have an interest in those examples as a DIYer, you’re going to be great in this scenario.”

And in the wake of a current forest fire, they’re a lot more appreciative for the view.

” Every day, the sun is doing something various. There’s no repeating at all,” Colley states.

” Numerous early mornings, we’ll get up, and the whole meadow is shrouded in fog. And after that as the sun goes up into the sky, the fog begins to sort of slip into the valley,” Tompkins includes. “As you watch out, it resembles you remain in a plane where there’s simply this lower level of clouds. To me, that’s magic.”

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Photos and video by Tom Hanny.

Initially released August 26, 2015.



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