At around 5:11 PM on August 17, 2023, our beloved Nahatlatch Lookout was consumed by a wildfire… 11 years almost to the day after it was rebuilt by the 4WDABC and SWATT (Southwest All Terrain Trails ATV Club).
The Kookipi Creek fire, started by lightning in steep terrain above Kookipi FSR on July 8, was considered “being held” and was still being actioned when strong winds came up, sending it north down the hill, over the Nahatlatch River, and up the mountain on the other side, where it engulfed the tower and Lyttonnet repeater, as well as many people’s properties.
The original lookout was built in the late 50s by the BC Forest Service and was one of the last operating fire lookouts in BC; at least two of our members were former operators in this tower when it was a functioning fire lookout! This beautifully reconstructed tribute to a classic design was one of our flagship rec sites, second in popularity only to Hale Creek, seeing hundreds of visitors annually, including four-wheelers, ORVs, two-wheelers, hikers, skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers. The views from the lookout were fantastic, looking south down the Fraser Canyon to Boston Bar, west out the Nahatlatch Valley, and even a bit of the Kookipi Pass. People would often camp at or even inside the tower. It served as many people’s introduction to the 4WDABC and was a point of pride for most of us. Our history rebuilding this one pretty much from scratch was a big part of landing maintenance contracts for the Lavina (Kaslo), Cornwall (Ashcroft), and most recently, Greenstone (Kamloops) lookouts.
Of the 23 rec sites we look after around BC (including three other fire lookouts), it’s definitely one of the most well-known and popular: the drive up is scenic, sometimes scary, challenging but easily driveable by any stock 4×4 (and quite a few crossovers too!). It’s relatively close to the Lower Mainland, making it a great day trip. Before the November 2021 floods damaged Kookipi FSR, it was the centerpiece of a fun circle route, taking the Fraser Canyon one way and the dirt roads down East Harrison the other way. Side trips to Grizzly Falls and Clear Creek Hotsprings could nicely round out a long but spectacular day.
Naturally, the news has been heartbreaking for everyone who has worked on it, visited it, planned to visit it, or just admired it from afar as an example of what dedicated volunteers can do. On the bright side, it’s given us some excellent exposure and provided a rallying point for people wanting to see it rebuilt – we’ve had offers of labour, of course, but also of donations of materials, money, and all sorts of ideas for swag, decals, patches, and so on to support the rebuild. We’ve spoken only briefly so far with Rec Sites and Trails BC (I imagine everyone there is pretty swamped these days), but we expect to have all the support we could hope for from them as well, as we’ve long had an amazing relationship with the BC government.
The scale of the catastrophe caused by the wildfires is so huge and overwhelming that it can make people feel powerless to affect any real change. The fire tower rebuild is a project of manageable size in contrast to the epic disaster unfolding across the province. As close as this site is to us, we also feel for those who have lost homes in this and other fires. The residents and cabin owners in the Nahatlatch area have long appreciated our presence there, and our members have always tried to be respectful of them, particularly in travelling slowly through their properties. Several members have now been in contact, wondering about helping them out if they need rebuilding, repairs, etc. Assisting the larger community has always been a big part of our ethos, and once things calm down, we do expect to be reaching out to them when the time comes.