Periscope down: Longtime Rapids area fire tower to be removed
By City Times staff
WISCONSIN RAPIDS – A fire tower that has stood on the south side of Wisconsin Rapids along State Highway 13 for nearly 70 years is scheduled to be removed.
Todd Pulvermacher, DNR Forest Ranger, said the 90-foot fire tower, which was constructed in 1951, is scheduled to come down before the end of the year.
“Our fire towers actually served as a way to detect fires, so we would have somebody up in that tower, and they would be looking out at the horizon for smoke. They would use a tool up there called an alidade, which basically aligned a compass direction to where they saw the smoke and then they would estimate a distance how far away,” he explained.
“We kind of had some benchmark distances – things that we could see – maybe it was the Rapids mill or the Nekoosa mill or the Port mill, so we knew a distance from the tower to help gauge how far away the smoke was.
“It was part of a network of those towers. So, there were other towers that might have been able to see the smoke.”
This network included towers in Rome, Friendship, and Wisconsin Dells.
“They might be able to see the smoke to, then we could get those cross lines where they see it, which would help us determine where a fire was and get units responding to it,” he explained.
With the tower network aging, Pulvermacher said that the network would need to be refurbished, which would have proved costly.
“We would have needed to reconstruct a lot of them across the state,” he added.
“What we found is between aerial detection and since the 50s, most everyone has a cell phone or is near someone with a cell phone; so, a lot of the fires were being reported directly or very, very quickly.
“They weren’t maybe necessarily as required on the landscape, so the investment was determined to be something that we maybe didn’t need anymore.”
The structure has been purchased by a company that will perform the removal of the tower and the tower will either be moved to another location or salvaged for scrap metal.
Pulvermacher said that the DNR tower has not been staffed since 2015.
“That was the last spring fire season that we had folks in them,” he said. “They’ve just been taken out of service and awaiting whatever we were going to do with them.
“I don’t want folks to be concerned that they are less protected without that tower there; that the tower was required to spot the fires. I always try to encourage folks that if they do see something, to report that to 911. And, we do have our aircraft that also patrol when fire danger is up, to also be looking for those fires and helping provide us that information.”
Tower removal is scheduled for sometime this fall.