The cab of the tower sits on a 12-foot cinder block communications vault and is accessed by a steep staircase of extremely narrow steps. There is no running water, air conditioning or heating inside the cab.
The Santa Lucia Ranger District of the Los Padres National Forest, in partnership with the Forest Fire Lookout Association, will be exploring the possibility of refurbishing and activating the Figueroa Mountain Lookout and staffing it with local volunteers in order to provide firefighters with early fire detection, as well as other assistance to the National Forest. In many circumstances, catching a fire when it is still young can prevent it from becoming large and destructive. This project gives volunteers the opportunity to help improve fire safety in Santa Barbara County rural areas, the San Rafael Wilderness, and the Los Padres National Forest.
Below is the project concept. As the volunteer force evolves, some details may be subject to change
- California Wildfires – When looking at a list of the 20 most destructive wildfires in California’s history, one immediately sees that over half of them have occurred in the last 10 years. Discussions about the reasons for this include increased building in the wildland-urban interface, land management practices, and climate change. The 2017 Thomas Fire, which scorched 440 square miles of Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties and the Los Padres National Forest, still smolders in the area’s memory. With the wildfire threat apparently increasing, re-activating closed lookout facilities can be instrumental in providing increased public safety.
- The Forest Fire Lookout Association (FFLA) is a nationwide not-for-profit organization of volunteers whose mission is to preserve the country’s dwindling inventory of these historic icons of conservation and forestry. When possible, the FFLA gathers volunteers and resources to restore and sometimes operate formerly closed lookout structures. The FFLA is divided into chapters, and Santa Barbara County falls within the California-South Chapter, which has the benefit of experience in the highly successful volunteer operations of lookout towers for 13 years.
- Figueroa Mountain Lookout is located between Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, approximately 15 miles east of Highway 101. Four miles east of Hwy 101 on Hwy 154, follow Figueroa Mountain Road for 15 miles to a 2-1/2-mile unpaved spur road to the peak. It sits at an elevation of 4,480 feet, and has been closed for over 30 years. The interior of the tower’s cab has been completely vandalized during the closure. Many lookout towers were closed in the 80’s and 90’s when forestry budgets were trimmed and smog limited the towers’ effectiveness.