SOUTH VENICE — What once served as a Florida Division of Forestry lookout tower in South Venice will be heading to the Catskill Mountains in New York State.
Workers for Davana Fire Tower Restoration took down the 80-foot tall Venetia fire tower, which has sat for decades just off State Road 776 near Jacaranda Boulevard in South Venice. Davana will totally restore the tower and will be re-erected this June at a new Catskill Interpretive Center near Mount Tremper, New York.
“This was probably built in the mid 1940s, maybe 1945,” David Vana said. “The state of Florida has very few records of their fire towers. At one time, the state had 393 of these at one time.”
Aremotor, known for building agricultural windmills for irrigation, originally built the tower. Florida’s lookout towers generally range from 90 to 130 feet tall. More than 5,000 lookout towers were erected nationwide, Vana said. He restores two to four towers a year.
“They were important to spot ‘smokes’ — that’s what they called them, smokes,” he said, explaining how fire spotters from various lookout towers would narrow down the location of fires.
Forestry employees would calculate the compass direction of a column of smoke and coordinate with employees in other towers to pinpoint it on the map. Then, Forestry and local firefighters would be dispatched to put it out.
The Florida Division of Forestry sold the State Road 776 property in South Venice with the tower in 2005. Foresters still maintain an active lookout tower along the Charlotte County portion of the state road, in El Jobean.
Vana saw the South Venice tower being sold online and bought it for $1,000 from the owner who lives in Fort Myers, he said. The 67-year-old Vana, who winters in St. Petersburg, has been restoring lookout towers for 17 years. He first purchased a tower for his 50-acre farm in the Adirondacks in New York.
Restoration isn’t inexpensive.
“It’s over $100,000 to get your average fire tower taken down, fixed up, delivered and erected,” Vana said. He’s saved and re-erected 32 towers over the years.
Vana wants to learn more about the history of Venetia lookout tower and encourages people to email him their stories to email@example.com. He has spoken to a few people who said they climbed the tower with their girlfriends or boyfriends.
Most of Florida’s remaining active lookout towers are in service in northern Florida where the state still looks over large pine forests, said John Fish, chief of fire protection for the Florida Division of Forestry.
Forestry currently has 28 towers remaining in service with various staffing levels. Two-thirds of the active towers are spread across rural North Florida.
“We have an additional 24 towers that are maintained for use in times of high fire danger and fire activity,” Fish said. “We have four towers that are maintained for heritage purposes.”
The sale prices for the towers have ranged from $130 to $6,010 on GovDeals.com. The expense of dismantling and removing the towers is the responsibility of the buyer and far exceeds the purchase price in most cases, Fish said.
Rather than depending upon lookout towers, Forestry now employees single-engine aircrafts to patrol and keep a lookout for fires for 26.3 million acres throughout Florida. Urbanization, like what’s been seen over the years in Venice and the Englewood area, has also led to the retirement of lookout towers, Fish said.
To learn more about the restoration of towers, visit the Forest Fire Lookout Association at www.firelookout.org.