Reasons for wilderness huts 7/12: cabins for fire guards

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Jouni Laaksonen 24.2.2020

This is the seventh post of a twelve post series. See index here.

If you have gold (I told about Finland’s green gold in the earlier post), you have to protect that. The danger for Finland’s green gold were forest fires. There used to be a vast network of fire guard stations throughout the sparsely populated north.

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A controlled forest fire. This patch of forest was burned intentionally, to restore a monotonous commercial forest towards a forest in natural state. Also, there are many insects that require freshly burned wood, and this kind of restoration fire helps them.

Australia has sadly been on fire now for a long time, and last summer there were severe forest fires in many European countries, too. I am sometimes asked if it is dangerous to hike in Finnish forests: what about forest fires?

No, it definitively is not dangerous at all. Significant forest fires are extremely rare in Finland. The summer’s largest forest fire in Finland is normally something like 50 to 100 hectares (=less than 1 km x 1 km area).

This is due to many reasons, like our northern latitude and not so hot summers, lots of water bodies like lakes, pools, rivers, streams, wet bogs, and also the modern forest management plays a role.

There aren’t fire guards stationed on tops of hills with their binoculars any more, but there are regular forest guarding flights, and a forest fire is detected early. And when it is detected, the very dense forest road network allows the fire brigand to arrive quickly to the fire.
Life of a fire guard

But I was telling about the old times. I remember when we arrived to the tiny Uurrekarkia wilderness hut in April 1999. It looked like the last fire guard had just left (although he had left several years ago):

  • there was a dry rye bread hanging in the ceiling (this was customary in old times in Finland; the thin rye bread dries, and thus does not rot, and no rodent can reach it up there)
  • the milk cartons were folded and packed so tightly inside one of them that the most pedantic conservationist would have been impressed
  • the inner walls were plastered with pages from color magazines from 1970s or 1980s: the swimming suit potrets of Miss Suomi competition (the national beauty contest)
  • and also there was an interesting map of Lapland, with all the fire guard stations marked

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Uurrekarkia hut. My friend is examining the map of fire guard stations.

Fire guarding was a lonely profession. You spent most of the summer alone in the middle of wilderness, only seldom (on a rainy spell) walking to a grocery store far away to get more food.

And the responsibility was great: if a forest fire would start and grow within your area, and you would not alert about it, it would be horrible. So, you had to scan the forests around you constantly with your binoculars.


Hut examples

A fire guard station could only be established to a spot where there is very good visibility to every direction and far away. So, lone treeless hills were popular, but also forested hills were used. In this case a tower had to be built.

This also means that former fire guard’s cabins turned to wilderness huts are fantastic hiking destinations! There’s a superb scenery waiting, and a proper shelter for a lunch break. Though you often have to carry water, because there seldom is a water source on top of the hill.

Uurrekarkia in Lemmenjoki National Park is an example of a forested hill with a tower. So are Pookivaara in Rokua NP, Kivalo in Martimoaapa Mire Protection Area and Lattunavaara near the southernmost part of Urho Kekkonen NP. There is a tower beside each of these, though in Uurrekarkia the tower has been demolished, and therefore there is no scenery from Uurrekarkia hut any more.

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Kivalo fire guard’s tower, and the day trip hut beside it. You can see some scenery already from this level, but if you climb to the…

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…tower you see much more! This tower is situated inside Martimoaapa Mire Protection Area, and the mires you see in the pic are just those Martimoaapa bogs.

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Pookivaara is the highest hill in Rokua National Park, but it grows tall pines. You cannot see any kind of a scenery from the level of the day trip hut. However, from the tower you see far away.

Valtavaara along Karhunkierros trail is an example of a treeless hill, as is Pyhä-Nattanen in Sompio Strict Nature Reserve, Karitunturi near Riisitunturi NP and Otsamo near Inari town. A tower was not needed as the view was unobstructed even without one.

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The interior of Otsamo day trip hut is typical to fire guard cabins: the most common feature is that the hut is tiny. There is usually a wood oven, though not always, and sometimes even a gas stove.

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Pyhä-Nattanen is a sacred fell and one of the greatest vantage points in Finnish Lapland. The old fire guard’s cabin serves as day trip hut. No tower was and is needed.

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In winter Pyhä-Nattanen hut is covered by a thick layer of snow!

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View from Valtavaara hill along Karhunkierros trail. The day trip hut is just behind the photographer. No tower was needed, for you can see unobstructed to every direction.

All of those mentioned fire guard stations are nowadays open wilderness huts or day trip huts. (Day trip hut is similar to wilderness hut, except that you are not supposed to sleep there.)

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