- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Dozens of towers built mainly in the 1930s and 1940s for spotting forest fires in Wisconsin are being taken out of commission.

The cost to maintain, repair or replace the 72 towers currently used throughout the state no longer makes sense, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The agency’s resources are better directed at enhancing aerial fire detection, said Trent Marty, director of DNR’s bureau of forest protection.

“Today, well over 90 percent of the forest fires that occur in the state are reported by citizens, unlike the 1930s when fire towers were the primary means of forest fire detection,” Marty said. “We recognize change is needed and there are opportunities to capitalize on the successes of our aviation program as well as advances in technology for forest fire detection.”

Decades ago, the DNR had 119 fire lookout towers, mostly in northern Wisconsin. Last year, the agency staffed 60 towers, many of which are located on private property with easement rights. The DNR is in the process of notifying landowners about the plan to take the towers out of service.

In recent years, the towers, typically 100 feet tall, have been staffed on average of 17 days per year through use of seasonal employees on a limited call-in basis.

“Going forward, DNR fire control will rely solely on aircraft and citizen reporting for the detection of wildfires,” Mary said.

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