US Front Range fire lookout, who spotted over 200 wildfires, retires
It’s the end of an era for Billy Ellis. Now 87 years old, the fire lookout retired on 25 June 2019 after working on and off since 1966 for a total of 35 seasons at the Devil’s Head Lookout Tower in Colorado, US, according to Lawrence Lujan of the US Forest Service. The Pike and San Isabel National Forests also acknowledged Ellis’ decades-long career via Twitter. They said, “Billy Ellis kept watch over Devil's Head fire lookout for decades, climbing 143 steps to the tower for every shift. Today, at just a few years short of 90, he became a retiree.”
Lujan said Ellis spotted over 200 fires during his time at Devil’s Head. He also served as a key contact to the public, educating visitors on the history of the lookout and promoting fire prevention by informing visitors of laws, policies, regulations, current fire conditions and precautionary measures. Lujan called Ellis a “steward of nature” who encouraged the public to enjoy the forest safely and responsibly.
Ellis’ other duties included operating a radio communications centre; monitoring the air quality of the forest and surrounding area; maintaining records of smoke plumes; advising firefighters; plotting fire locations; and providing fire-detection services for other fire-suppression agencies.
Lujan said Devil’s Head is still operational, with a new fire lookout on-board.
According to the Pike and San Isabel National Forests’ website, the Devil’s Head Lookout Tower is the last of the four original Front Range Fire Lookout towers still in continuous use and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Devil’s Head has been in continuous use since 1912 and was the duty station of Helen Dowe, Colorado’s first female fire lookout and one of the first women in the job in the nation.
The Front Range Fire Lookout towers were planned in 1907 as a series of seven principal lookouts along the Front Range of the Rockies between New Mexico and Wyoming. However, only four were ever built (three in Colorado and one in Wyoming), one of them being Devil’s Head. The others are the Twins Sisters lookout near Estes Park; the Squaw Peak lookout near Mount Evans; and the Medicine Bow Peak lookout in Wyoming.
The Devil’s Head Lookout Tower is typically open to the public between late May and early September, according to the Pike and San Isabel National Forests’ website. To visit, hike the Devil’s Head Trail which begins at the picnic area adjacent to the campground and ends at the lookout tower. The 1,4-mile-long trail takes between 45 and 90 minutes to hike and has an elevation gain of 865 feet. The tower itself is at 9 748 feet.
Source: Denver Post