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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit

Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Firefighting begins in Washington

(Entwistle tower)
The Entwistle Lookout Tower. Photo from the Harry Osborne collection, courtesy of Cecil and Betty (Osborne) Hittson

By William Entwistle
      On June 8, 1908, Page Simon formed the Washington Forest Fire Association with the aid of a number of lumbermen. The lumbermen chose Simon, a chief fire warden, and told him to get his men and they would back him. Simon sent for me and put me in charge of the field men.
      At first I scarcely realized how large my territory was as they sent me wherever the big fires were. At that time it was an independent association. I would work for the association commencing June 1st with sometimes only three months a season, but if the fires were bad I would work longer, according to the fire season. The remainder of the year I would cruise for the timber company.
      In those days we had no equipment, only hand axe, shovel and matic, plus plenty of hard work with which to control the fires. In some of the lumber camps you were considered an intruder. They would meet you and give you to understand that they didn't want anybody interfering in their business. It would take a lot of talk to make them understand. My first transportation was by train and walking, since many of the fires were so far from train travel, I was mostly walking for miles through the brush and over the maintains anywhere the fires needed to be fought. You may depend upon it; they were found in some of the most obsolete places. Many times set by campers and sometimes by careless loggers. Most places required much more walking than train travel.
      So they decided to give me a horse to ride. I would ride the poor animal as far as I could get in the woods and then tie him up and go on foot up the mountain to the fire, many times finding myself on the other side of the mountain well into the night. Yet I had to walk back over the mountain to my horse. That wasn't so good. Then they gave me a bike. That I carried on my back the most of the time, as then there were few roads or trails where I had to travel that one could ride a bike on or near where the fires were. So still I had to continue to walk. The better roads then were not as good as many of the logging roads are today.
      As I remember, it was in 1911 they gave me a Ford to drive. I then lived in the Rainier Valley, Seattle. All the way to Rainier Beach it was paved with slab boards and the legal travel in the city was twenty miles an hour but, after the leaving the city, I could travel thirty miles an hour if my car would go that fast. This was a great improvement. The roads were being improved all the time. And even the loggers were building better roads and I could get much nearer to my destination and at that speed I could arrive within range of the fire very early where I would leave my car and go into the mountains or wherever the fire was.
      When I first started working for the Forest Fire Association, Welty was state supervisor. Then came Farris, then Pape. As time went on all began to understand that the interest of one to protect the forest was the interest of all and that cooperation of the Washington Forest Fire Association and the State Forest Protection could work in harmony and do great things. I was glad when this was accomplished. It was during Pape's time that through an act of the Legislature it was made possible for each to assume certain expenses and work together. However it was not until George Joy, who followed Pape, became State Supervisor that this became a reality. With this cooperation and Joy in full accord, things moved along very fast with cooperation in full swing.
      I began to realize the importance of training young men to build a strong organization for the future. I am glad I had a part in building up such capable men as now work with the State Fire Association. I am glad to know that it is many of those men who are the greatest success in the service today. The poor ones did not stay long.
      The first lookout tower was built between Enumclaw and Buckley in 1911, I seem to remember. A fellow by the name of Lee Price was our lookout man. Then the next one was built in Skagit county, but I cannot remember when. But let us hope your memory is better than mine is when you are nearing ninety years of age.

Skagit River Journal research
      Harry Osborne wrote in hand at the end that the lookout Entwistle referred to Skagit county was the English Logging lookout tower in section 36, Township 33, Range 4 East, which was built in 1929. For all the articles written by and about William Entwistle and his logging and firefighting, few include personal information and genealogy. We are still working to make a connection between him and James Entwistle, who homesteaded in 1858 at what later became the townsite of Tolt, which was changed to Carnation to 1917 in favor of the Carnation Dairy. Entwistle had three sons by two different wives and died by accidental drowning in Seattle in 1902. We hope that a reader can help us with William's genealogy. There is also a town of Entwistle near Edmonton, Canada. We also discovered that the first forest-fire lookout tower was placed in operation in 1905 near Greenville, Maine.

Links, background reading and sources
Firewatching towers features completely updated from our original domain
Shared from the archives of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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Story posted on Sept. 14, 2002, last updated Dec. 15, 2008
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This article originally appeared in Issue 9 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine, completely updated Issue 45

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