Bobby Devane of Tar Heel is a member of the Bladen Amateur Radio Society, or BARS. The ham radio society has requested permission from the N.C. Forest Service to dismantle and relocate the Lagoon fire tower, Devane said.
District Forester Shane Hardee said the tower is one of several the Forest Service plans to liquidate in the next few years.
"We can't afford to run them anymore," he said. "We don't need them."
Hardee said the Forest Service plans to use the property as a staging area for firefighting equipment. Both to make room, and to reduce liability for the agency, the tower will have to be moved.
BARS was the first group to express interest in the tower, Hardee said. No agreement has been reached between he Forest Service and the group.
"We would prefer to keep it where it is," Devane said, "but if we can't, at least moving it will give us a chance to preserve it, get some use out of it, and keep it secure."
The BARS group will use the tower as a base for antennae, broadcasting gear, and weather equipment.
"The tower would help us provide better coverage for the entire area," Devane said.
In addition to hobby broadcasting, ham radio operators provide backup communications for emergency officials in case of major disasters, such as weather-related emergencies, Devane said.
Devane, Mac McCollum, Marcus McLaughlin, and Jack Dobbs are heading up the effort to acquire and move the tower. All four are active ham operators.
"Anytime conventional communications are knocked out, such as in a tornado or other catastrophe, we're ready to help," Devane said.
BARS transmits with a Robeson County amateur network. Their broadcast net includes ham operators as far away as Pawley's Island, S.C., as well as all over southeastern North Carolina.
"We just enjoy communicating with each other," Devane said. "It's an interesting hobby, and we like being able to help the community, too."
Devane said that like a number of ham operators, he is a member of the Skywarn Weather Network, a group of spotters who report severe weather conditions to the National Weather Service.
The group hopes to place data gathering equipment and possibly a weather camera on the tower if and when it is moved, Devane said. The data would then be fed to the National Weather Service and the rest of the Skywarn network.
The plan to move the tower is still in its infancy, Devane said.
"We don't know exactly where to put it just yet," Devane said. "Plus, it's going to be a major undertaking to dismantle that tower, transport it to a new place, and reassemble it."
The towers at Lagoon and Jones Lake were built in the 1930s as part of the first early-fire detection programs in the state. Constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the steel towers were in used until stronger radios and improved firefighting and fire-prevention techniques made the towers obsolete in the 1990s.
Hardee said the Bladen towers have not been continuously manned for several years.
The Jones Lake tower is being maintained as a radio communications tower and as a backup watchtower by the Forest Service.
"We still have a lot of work to do," Devane said, "but we appreciate the Forest Service working with us this way. If we can move the tower, we can get some good use out of it, and preserve some of Bladen's history at the same time."
"I wish there was some way we could justify keeping all our towers," Hardee said. "If we got some use out of them, we could find a way to pinch some pennies and maybe make it work. But the maintenance costs and liability issues make it almost impossible."
Hardee said the old CCC built towers are disappearing rapidly across the state.
"Most of them are still in the coastal plain areas," he said. "Most of those in the mountains have been dismantled. There are fewer and fewer classic fire towers left."
For more information on the Bladen Amateur Radio Society, contact Devane at 866-5886.