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Radio communication keeps fire rangers in touch

The Story


A ranger in a lookout tower near Ontario's Algonquin Park spots a plume of smoke in the forest. He reports the sighting by radio to the district headquarters of the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests. Within minutes, a pilot on patrol in his Beaver aircraft is dispatched to investigate. The CBC's Bill Kay is there to record the radio messages that keep everyone in contact, and discovers the smoke is just a campfire. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: Aug. 21, 1957
Guest(s): Ralph Stone
Host: Maria Barrett, Bill McNeil
Reporter: Bill Kay
Duration: 4:37

Did You know?


• Lookout towers have been used in Ontario since the 1920s. Between then and the 1950s, about 320 towers were built in the province. Most were 27 metres or 34 metres tall, with views reaching up to 50 kilometres. In the 1960s they slowly fell out of use, replaced by aerial patrols. A decade later, the Ontario government began to demolish many towers. They were concerned people might climb them and injure themselves.

• Several dozen lookout towers with their ladders removed remain standing in the province, and about seven are now popular tourist attractions.

• As of July 2003 there are just two fully operational, staffed lookout towers in Ontario. Both are in the Petawawa Research Forest adjacent to Algonquin Park. The PRF is a 100 square kilometre area used by researchers to study trees, forest ecology and fire behaviour.

• Before radio contact was possible, rangers in lookout towers reported fires using telephones, carrier pigeons and heliographs. A heliograph operator uses Morse code to communicate by tilting a mirror to reflect sunlight.

• Though a ranger in a lookout tower can easily spot smoke, estimating its distance from the tower is tricky. However, when two towers both see the same smoke, each reports its bearings and district offices can plot its location by cross-referencing the reports.


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