Keller Peak Fire Lookout
by Joan Moseley
The Keller Peak Fire Lookout is located at the top of Keller Peak Road just past Running Springs California. Constructed in 1926, it is the oldest fire tower still standing in the San Bernardino National Forest.
From 1927 to 1981 the tower was manned by Forest Service personnel. In 1985, volunteers from the Rim of the World Interpretive Association manned the site after it received extensive renovation. In 1994 the Fire Lookout Host program was created to manage all the lookouts “on the forest.” Currently, over 250 volunteers operate all the lookouts from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily during fire season. “This year alone, Keller Peak lookout volunteers have called in three ‘first responses’ to fires. They’re becoming more and more important in assisting firefighters,” said Kris Assel, executive director of the San Bernardino National Forest Association. When visitors are not at the lookout, volunteers scan for “smokes.” Trained on the Osborne, a device used to locate points within the forest, they are fully trained to let the Forest Service know the exact location of the fire. “Often our lookout volunteers assist with pinpointing exact fire locations,” said Chris Fabbro, co-coordinator of the Fire Lookout Host program.
The lookout hasn’t changed much from the time it was built by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The site represents one of very few fire towers in California that were built before the Great Depression. Although cell phones make it easier for residents and visitors to report fires, the lookouts still serve as fire lookouts and also as mini visitor centers. Visitors who wish to climb the steep steps up to the tower get a beautiful view of the valley below (smog aside) and when they turn around, a view of the beautiful mountain peaks that surround the tower.
According to information from the U.S. Forest Service, the peak was named for Ally Carlin Keller who was born in San Bernardino in 1868. He was, at one time, an employee of the Forest Service. A Sierra Club history of the site says that his father, Carlin Keller, was a native of Illinois who settled, farmed and logged the area in 1854. A Serrano Indian name for this peak may have been “Kaviktaviat,” meaning “so very deep or steep that it could not be climbed.”
On Saturday, July 13, 2002 a re-dedication ceremony was held to honor nine crewmen of a B-26 bomber who were killed on December 31, 1941, when the plane they were flying crashed into Keller Peak. Apparently, had they been flying 100 feet higher the plane would have cleared the mountain. The plane had earlier been a part of a diamond formation traveling through the Cajon Pass but when the squadron encountered stormy weather, the planes separated and the B-26 at the rear of the formation failed to clear the mountain.
The lookout gives a history of the flight, along with a commemorative plaque situated near the two engines that are still on the mountainside. During Saturday’s events, a rededication of the plaque was made. Rim of the World Community Church Pastor Charles Van Kirk led the short service.
Keller Peak Fire Lookout is open to the public 9am – 5pm daily from Memorial Day to mid-November. This lookout is located east of Running Springs on Forest Road 1N96. This 5-mile road is paved all the way to the fire lookout.