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Public-images-osm logo.svg building = fire_lookout
Mt. Harkness Fire Lookout (13172463715).jpg
A building originally built for fire spotting.
Group: Buildings
Used on these elements
may be used on nodesshould not be used on waysmay be used on areasshould not be used on relations
Useful combination
See also
Status: approvedPage for proposal


A building that was built as a  fire lookout. It includes cases where the building is no longer used for its original purpose.

Over the last century, fire lookout towers have been an important tool for land managers to detect and monitor wildfires. They are usually located deep in wilderness areas and often inaccessible by road. This meant staff would live on site during the fire season and report their observations via radio.

More recently, aerial and satellite imaging has begun to replace mountaintop lookouts for the purposes of wildfire monitoring. While some fire lookouts are still in active use, others have become historic structures and tourist attractions. Some have even been converted into rental cabins.


The tag building=fire_lookout is appropriate for structures which were built for the purpose of fire spotting, which generally have a common set of physical features. In the United States, fire lookouts are often square, one-room structures with windows in all directions. Many are built from prefabricated components.

Use the related tag emergency=fire_lookout to indicate that a lookout (or other structure, such as a man_made=tower) is currently used by emergency personnel for fire spotting.

Most lookouts will have an official name=*, usually derived from the peak upon which they're built or the region they look out over.

Lifecycle tags can be used to tag fire lookouts which are disused or abandoned. For example, disused=yes for an unused lookout, or abandoned:building=fire_lookout for one which has fallen into severe disrepair.

Regardless of the current state of use or repair, a lookout is usually owned and operated by a land management agency (such as the Forest Service or the National Park Service in the U.S.). When possible, note this on the object using the operator=* tag.

Some lookouts have been converted into wilderness huts or rental cabins – in the U.S., these are usually owned and operated by the Park or Forest Service. These can be tagged building=fire_lookout but should not be tagged emergency=fire_lookout. Use either tourism=chalet or tourism=wilderness_hut to indicate the present use, along with relevant operator=* information if it's known. Consider also adding electricity=* information since it will very likely be relevant to anyone staying at the lookout.

Some lookouts that are no longer in active service have been opened to the public. These can be tagged access=yes and possibly also tourism=viewpoint. Other lookouts have signs indicating that they're closed to public access and should be tagged access=no. Again, only use emergency=fire_lookout for structures that are actively used for fire spotting.

Many (but not all) fire lookout structures are also towers: they are built atop a tall wooden or metal scaffold. These can be tagged man_made=tower and tower:type=observation. Consider adding height=* if it is known. Most lookouts are building:levels=1 and it may be helpful to tag them as such.

Some fire lookouts are designated historic buildings and can be tagged historic=building. Consider also adding an appropriate Wikipedia or Wikidata link, or other relevant ref (e.g. ref:nrhp=*). If possible, also tag the year that the lookout was erected with start_date=*.


Below are a few illustrative examples of how to tag some real-world fire lookouts.

Location Notes Recommended tagging

A medium-size two-level structure: the lower level is stone and the upper level is wooden.

Mt. Harkness Fire Lookout, California, USA

Still used for both fire spotting and seismic monitoring in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Open to the public when staffed. Included in the National Historic Lookout Register.



name=Mount Harkness Fire Lookout





ref:nhlr=US 516

A medium-size one-room structure atop a tall wooden scaffold

Ute Mountain Fire Tower, Utah, USA

Built in 1937 – the only fire lookout built in Utah with living quarters at the top. Ceased regular operations in 1968. Restored several times, most recently in 2014. Now open to the public as an interpretive site.

Ute Mountain Fire Tower qualifies as both a building and a tower, since it's an enclosed habitable cabin atop a wooden scaffold.




name=Ute Mountain Fire Tower

operator=Ashley National Forest




A one-room wooden structure anchored to the mountaintop by tie-down cables.

Hidden Lake Lookout, Washington, USA

Built in 1932 (site established in 1931?), but no longer used by Forest Service personnel. Open to the public on a first-come basis for overnight stays. Maintained by the Friends of Hidden Lake Lookout volunteer group.

Note: this lookout is also a historic building (listed on the NRHP) but those tags are omitted for brevity.


name=Hidden Lake Lookout





operator=Friends of Hidden Lake Lookout

A tall metal tower with a very small enclosed cabin at the top.

Mount Lofty Fire Tower, Australia

Built in 1980. The tower has a small fully-enclosed room at the top, but does not provide living quarters to staff. Operated by the South Australian Country Fire Service. Typically staffed from December 1st through to the April 30th each year.

Since living quarters are not on-site, probably most appropriate to tag the structure as a tower and not a building.




name=Mount Lofty Fire Tower


operator=South Australian Country Fire Service