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Jesmond Fire Lookout – Part of British Columbia’s History

Just a hop, skip, and a big uphill jump away from Big Bar Lake Provincial Park is a piece of British Columbia’s wildfire history.

Jesmond Fire Lookout Access | Kim Walker

Located in BC’s Cariboo region, the Jesmond Fire Lookout, maintained by Recreation Sites and Trails BC, preserves one of the still-remaining historic fire watch towers in British Columbia. From 1972 to 1999 wildfire observers were stationed at the Jesmond Lookout tower for three weeks at a time from early May to late September. The observer lived in the tower and was responsible for detecting and reporting early signs of wildfires. Historically, approximately 12 fires per year were detected from the Jesmond Lookout.

BC has a rich history of fire lookouts. Starting in the early 1900s, men were sent to mountaintops with unobstructed views in order to provide early detection of wildfires. The BC Forest Branch was created in February 1912 and to celebrate 100 years of the BC Forest Service in 2012, the 1957 documentary The Man in the Tower was digitized and shared online (https://youtu.be/U8Pi8CF_NT4) and provides a fascinating look at forest management practices of the time and the day to day tasks and equipment of the fire lookout observer.

Hiking in to Jesmond Lookout | Kim Walker

The Jesmond Lookout is accessible by a rough 4WD road. When we visited, we were able to drive most of the way up the road in our truck. If I were to do the trip again, I would plan for a much longer hike and park much further down the steep and narrow access road. If you plan on hiking the final six kilometres up the Jesmond Lookout Road, as I would do, you will be climbing just under 800 metres – no small feat! Most of the road is treed, but the final kilometre opens up and the road passes through beautiful open country with spectacular views in all directions.

Jesmond Lookout Tower | Kim Walker

We visited in late June and it started snowing when we were at the lookout. At an elevation of 1970 metres, it is important to be prepared for unpredictable weather and high winds. Winds over 120 km/h have been recorded at the lookout, and the building itself is tethered to the bedrock with metal cables.

Signage at Jesmond Lookout | Kim Walker

Unfortunately, over the years many of the hundreds of primary fire lookout towers in the province have been vandalized or destroyed. In recent years, increased attention has been given to restoring and protecting these sites, which is certainly a valuable endeavour. Other intact fire towers include the Cornwall Fire Lookout near Ashcroft, the Windy Joe Lookout in Manning Park, the Harrison Fire Lookout on the west side of Harrison Lake, and the Nahatlatch Lookout near Boston Bar. The restoration and maintenance of these sites is made possible by partnerships with groups such as the Four Wheel Drive Association of British Columbia and through countless volunteer hours.

Big Bar Lake from Jesmond Lookout | Kim Walker

Visiting the Jesmond Fire Lookout is an excellent day trip when camping at Big Bar Lake Provincial Park. The Rec Sites and Trails site offers a picnic table and a pit toilet in addition to the historic fire lookout. The journey to get to the Jesmond Lookout is neither short nor simple, but for those well prepared, the trip is well worth the effort.

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See the blog Big Bar Lake Provincial Park in BC’s Cariboo.

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Published: March 16th, 2023

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