Here’s what it’s like living in a remote tower as a wildfire lookout
Living high above the mountains in a remote tower with no electricity or water, wildfire lookout Kelsey (@kezleyyy) lives a bare-bones, adventurous lifestyle packed with plenty of incredible views—and plenty of followers on TikTok. “You’re getting paid to have an intimate relationship with nature,” says Kelsey. “You really can’t go wrong with a fire tower, honestly,”
Besides having what Kelsey refers to as “million dollar views,” which include incredible sunrises, sunsets, and loads of wildlife, life as a fire lookout is very high-stakes and not as relaxing as it might seem.
“A fire lookout is basically someone that lives in a tower on top of a mountain by themselves and looks for smoke, and then calls them in to report fires,” she says. Kelsey explains that fire season lasts from the end of March until the end of October, and that during the off-season, she lives in a “regular house,” but is constantly longing to return to her tower.
“I miss it so much,” says Kelsey. “It’s so funny because my bedroom is kind of like a shrine to my tower. I have so many photos on the wall and paintings. People come over and they’re like ‘Do you have a personality or is this your entire personality?’ And I’m like, ‘Good question, I don’t really know.’ I love it.”
Kelsey explains that every fire tower is different, and the fire tower that she works in has no running water or electricity, so she uses a propane stove and propane lights to power her essentials. At the center of the tower is what Kelsey refers to as the “fire finder,” which is a communication device used to call in fires.
Kelsey has everything she needs up in the tower, but life is far from luxurious. “90% of the towers you work in are historic, so you’re gonna run into leaky [and] drafty windows. It gets really cold,” she says. “Bugs come in all the time, and we don’t have a propane heater, so you have to get enough wood. You’re basically surviving on top of a mountain.”
Life up in the tower can be tough, but luckily for Kelsey, she doesn’t have to do it alone. Kelsey has the best roommate one could ask for—her loyal pup Rufus! “Living in a tower isn’t too bad because I have my best friend with me,” says Kelsey. The fire lookout says that her and Rufus will go on hikes, do yoga, play hide and seek and read books. “We stay pretty busy,” says Kelsey.
Despite the furry and adorable distraction, Kelsey never loses sight of her main objective. “Maybe it makes me sound a little crazy, but I love calling in fires,” she says. “It’s like a little adrenaline rush. It’s the most exciting part of the job. It’s why we’re sitting up there all day—to wait for smoke, so when it finally happens, it’s a good feeling.”
Spotting smoke helps Kelsey preserve her sense of purpose, and helps remind her why her role is so essential. “You’re gonna be helping the community,” she says. “You’re gonna maybe help a rancher from his entire property being burnt over. And you’re the first one to [get] the ball rolling and get people in there, and ya, hopefully help out.”
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