Bertha Hill Lookout

A young woman sits at the top of a tall snag looking for fire.

"Bertha Hill was one of the first mountain tops selected by early fire protection leaders to be centrally located in the vast Clearwater Mountains to locate and detect early forest fires. So in the early 1900s they had the actual cook from the timber cruisers camp go up to the mountain top and climb a tree and throughout the day watch for fires. And she would report fire locations, report the detection of a fire to the timber cruisers by shooting off her shot gun and they would respond by responding with a rifle shot and they would come and she would give them directions to a fire. Throughout the years after that lookouts were established and constructed on the mountain top Bertha Hill and throughout the years there have been six mountain top lookouts but it was one of the first forest lookouts in the nation and in the western states."
— Howard Weeks, chief fire warden, Clearwater-Potlatch Timber Protective Assoc.

A historic photo of the Bertha Hill Lookout when it was made of wood.

Bertha Hill may also be the nation's longest running forest lookout location. The original tree lookout is long gone, as are a succession of earlier wooden structures.
But the steel tower built in 1958 continues to play a vital role in protecting the local forest. It's one of the many firefighting tools of the Clearwater-Potlatch Timber Protective Association.

"The Clearwater-Potlatch was formed in 1905 and really has operated through the years and provided a level of fire and forest protection to about a million acres in the Clearwater Mountains north of Orofino. We currently do operate two fixed mountain lookouts, Bertha Hill being one of those. Throughout the fire season Today's Bertha Hill Lookout is a steel tower.when the fire danger increases then we staff the lookouts and combine that with daily air patrols with our fixed wing detection planes. At one time in Idaho and the western states there were hundreds of mountain top lookouts. As the years progressed and trails became roads and we had better vehicles we limited the response time for smoke chasers and the need for mountain top lookouts has reduced. But today we still look and view the need to have good detection from a mountain top when aircraft is not flying. The combination of aircraft and mountain top lookouts provides a very effective fire detection system with basically around the clock detection."
— Howard Weeks, chief fire warden, Clearwater-Potlatch Timber Protective Assoc.