The Short and Spectacular History of the Lassen Peak Fire Lookout

The newly-built Lassen Peak fire lookout in 1913. Photo by Olan Hampton via NPS.

In 1913, the Forest Service built a wooden fire lookout on Lassen Peak, the best place to spot wildfires throughout the area in the early 1900’s. It was a difficult achievement to build such a structure at 10,000 feet elevation, and it could have been utilized for years. But in 1914, Lassen Peak came alive.

The volcanic history of Lassen Peak is ancient, including 12 eruption period during the past 100,000 years. And it just so happened that the most recent eruption period came the year following the construction of the Lassen Peak fire lookout, creating a spectacular volcanic scene around the lookout for the next three years.

It was on May 30, 1914, when local rancher Bert McKenzie noticed a black cloud rising over the volcano and immediately called the forest service to report what he just witnessed. When park ranger Harvey Abbey snowshoed to the top of Lassen Peak the following day, there was a brand-new crevasse that had formed in the mountain overnight.

The brand-new crater found on Lassen Peak in 1914. Photo by Benjamin Franklin Loomis via NPS.

“From the crater and crevasse were coming puffs of steam and ashes,” reported Abbey. “Noises coming from the crater were heard that sounded like something dropping down in the bottom of the crater….Along the sides of the crater were small, round holes, where the steam was gushing out.”

Abbey reported that there was no discernible impact of the fire lookout, but that wouldn’t last long. Over the summer of 1914, lava rocks were catapulted from the volcanic holes in the mountain, taking out the fire lookout piece-by-piece.

Here are some of the photos of the fire lookout as it was slowly destroyed by the eruption of Lassen peak:

Photo by Fred Parks via NPS.
Photo by Benjamin Franklin Loomis via NPS.
Photo by William Holmes Spaulding via NPS.
Photo by Benjamin Franklin Loomis via NPS.
Photo by Olan Hampton via NPS.

Following the eruption of Lassen Peak from 1914 to 1917, the volcano went from looking like to:

To this:

The story of the Lassen Peak fire lookout is a testament to how man simply can match the power of nature. Want to see more photos of the Lassen Peak eruption. See these 10 mind-blowing photos.

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