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Firewatch inspired a fan to become youngest fire tower historian

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Endearing story highlights two-year anniversary of Campo Santo’s game

Firewatch - fire tower Campo Santo

Firewatch’s creators got a nice two-year anniversary gift over the weekend: a heartwarming story about how the game led a teenage player to a real-life interest in the iconic old fire watchtowers that grace the game, and keeping them standing for others to appreciate.

“Jack,” a 14-year-old from Massachusetts, struck a touching note with this thread. His story began when he blew through Firewatch in a single day after its February 2016 launch on Windows PC and PlayStation 4. “One thing that really stuck with me were the fire towers, so I decided to do some research on them myself,” he said.

Many fire towers predate the United States Forest Service, which is tasked with wildland fire control. They are in many ways a relic of mid-20th century America as newer technologies began making their use — getting up really high to see smoke or keep an eye on a blaze — obsolete. Firewatch is a nostalgic period piece about the summer of 1989 in Wyoming’s Shoshone National Forest.

Pursuing his interest in the towers’ history and meaning, Jack up and joined the Forest Fire Lookout Association, a national organization dedicated to preserving old fire tower sites. Many that are no longer used have fallen into disrepair, and face demolition without local efforts to keep them standing. As the FFLA’s youngest member, Jack visited more than 100 of the structures over the next two years. His interests also included a stint last summer in as a tour guide, giving talks on the history of fire structures in the Belknap Range in central New Hampshire.

More significantly, Jack organized a preservation effort with the Maryland Historical Society to save a a structure in Powellville, Maryland. The moral of the story, if you’re wondering, is that a video game about fire towers saved one, as a historically significant structure. Per Jack’s writings, sent to the attention of Firewatch studio Campo Santo and its developers, it’s likely that tower would have been torn down.

Jack’s looking forward to a career in forest fire control, whether at the state or federal level. He’s made many contacts who are impressed by his commitment and interest, especially for his age.

Reaction in a thread spanning more than 100 replies complimented Jack for acting on his inspiration and pointed to games as a positive force. Many charmed by the story shared anecdotes about fire towers in their midst, and some were happy to see that Jack had visited them, too. In one case, he was familiar with preservation efforts to save another tower in Maine.

Here’s a full map of where he’s been. There are more than 140 sites he’s visited, by his count.

The Forest Fire Lookout Association has more than 40 chapters in the U.S. and Canada. The association was founded in 1990 at the French Creek State Park outside Reading, Pennsylvania. The FFLA’s official page has more on its work and how to contact a local chapter.