A Tower Outage on Deboullie Mountain

A beloved firetower lost its lookout in a windstorm.

Deboullie Mountain firetower
Photographed by Colby Brown
By Will Grunewald

Fire towers, to woodsy types, are a bit like lighthouses: no longer manned, but still possessed of a mystique of solitude, duty, and hardiness. Across the country, preservationists have worked to save them, and niche clubs have formed solely for the sake of hiking to them. When Jen Brophy looked up at Deboullie Mountain one recent morning and saw that the old wooden cab on the peak’s 48-foot tower was missing, she broke down and cried.

Brophy was maybe 7 years old when she carved her name in that cab. “There was at least a layer or two of names,” she says — and she recognized many of them, because she runs nearby Red River Camps, which her parents bought in 1979, the year she was born. “People would go back year after year to see their names from when they were little kids.”

After trekking up, Brophy judged that high winds had lifted the cab in one piece and hurled it some 50 yards through the air. She posted photos of the debris on Facebook, prompting an outpouring from people whose relatives had manned the tower, who used to hike up in the ’60s to eat breakfast with the watchman, or who simply counted among those with their names etched there.

The partially wooded summit of Deboullie Mountain yields views north to Fort Kent and Canada, but from a new cab, which the Bureau of Parks and Lands hopes to have up by late summer, hikers will again be able to look south to Katahdin, across 70 miles of uninterrupted forest. And they’ll have a blank slate upon which to record their names. “It’s weird,” Brophy says, “but that’s just one of those things everybody does out in the woods.”