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Indiana’s wildfire legacy

BLUFFTON, Ind. (WPTA) - As wildfires rage in America’s West, it should be noted that Indiana suffered from large wildfires too.

Dry grassland and forests once erupted into flame. Thousands of acres were scorched. To combat the threat, a networks of watch towers were erected to surveil those dry lands. Most of the towers were constructed in Southern Indiana, but in 21 Country, Wells County became home to a tower in the late 1930's.

A silent sentinel towering 90 feet above Ouabache State Park, the tower was built by the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The Corps was a depression era work relief program meant to keep men working, their families fed, and public lands in good shape.

Civilian Conservation Corps workers construct the fire tower in Wells County in 1935. Courtesy Ouabache State Park

Those times were not unlike our experience today - with large numbers of people out of work while the country faced a crisis.

Today, the tower stands as a monument to the men who built it and the legacy of wildland firefighting in Indiana. It is watched over and maintained by the Friends of Ouabache State Park, a group of volunteers who raise money for maintenance and who are credited with restoring the tower when age and wear threatened to bring it down.

As the holidays approach, the Friends are preparing for an annual fundraiser that sees the tower festooned with lights. Like a metal Christmas Tree standing over the park, visitors will drive past the glowing structure, craning their necks to see the spectacle, and other light displays at the park. The "Wonderland of Lights" will run during the month of December.

View the story below to hear about the history of the tower, the volunteers who maintain it and a personal connection to the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Western Wildfires.

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