Fire Prevention card, front and back, 1926
Courtesy of Jean Bouteiller

Forest fires were a regular occurrence in Connecticut during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with anywhere between 15,000 to over 100,000 acres burning annually.

Early on, sparks thrown off by locomotives were a major cause, accounting for as much as one-third of all Connecticut forest fires. By 1929, the overwhelming majority of forest fires in the state were caused by discarded cigarettes and cigars, while locomotive sparks accounted for only 5% of the fires.

The state created a Forest Fire Warden position in 1905. A 1914 report by the Connecticut Experiment Station indicated that 503 forest fires had burned over 10,000 acres between January and July of that year, causing losses of $45,000. The State Fire Warden was praised for keeping the losses from being any larger.

Forest Fire Warden sign, 1920s
Courtesy of Jean Bouteiller

Henry Bouteiller at his fire watch tower, Mohawk Mountain, 1924
Courtesy of Jean Bouteiller

Cornwall’s first Fire Warden was Henry J. Bouteiller, who had been a forester in France before coming to this country in 1880. A fire lookout tower on top of Mohawk Mountain was built in 1922 following a fire that destroyed 5,000 acres of woodland. Bouteiller walked to the tower daily during fire season.

“No trip to Mohawk is complete without a visit to the fire tower…. Here during the dry seasons a keen-eyed fire guard keeps vigil, to watch for the smoke of the dreaded forest fire. A single careless smoker, or unextinguished camp fire could easily start a roaring blaze and soon reduce the fair prospect to desolation.”

~ Harrison G. Streeter, “Connecticut Vacation Spots,”
Hartford Courant, July 7, 1929

Fire watch tower, Mohawk Mountain, 1922
Courtesy of Jean Bouteiller