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MADISON – On August 9, Smokey Bear turned 70 years old. Smokey says he is ready for 70 more years of preventing wildfires as the star of the nation’s longest-running public service advertising campaign. Who knows Smokey Bear? An Ad Council survey says 97 percent of adults know Smokey Bear and 3 out of 4 adults can recite (without hint or prompt) Smokey’s most powerful message: “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.”
So powerful is that message fire experts say Smokey has helped reduce the number of acres lost every year to wildfires from roughly 22 million in 1944 (when Smokey started his campaign) to an average of 6.7 million annually today. Yet, Smokey’s message remains as relevant today as 70 years ago because wildfire prevention remains a critical issue and people are still the number one cause of forest fires. Plus, as Smokey’s birthday candles are being prepared, wildfire crews are working hard suppressing forest fires in the western United States.
Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources recently sent a 20-person wildfire hand-crew of members from various government agencies to Boise, Idaho, to assist with the wildfire suppression efforts. Another 6-person DNR hand-crew also is on its way to the state of Oregon. They will become part of another 20-member wildfire hand-crew to assist with fire-fighting efforts in western states. Also, several single resources or overhead positions have been mobilized this past weekend to assist in the western fire situation.
“We are always prepared for the weather to take a turn for the worst, but if we do not find ourselves in a critical fire situation at home, we most certainly are willing to send resources to areas of the country in need,” DNR Wildfire Prevention Specialist Catherine Koele says. “This is a two-way street. We send help to other states when requested. And, if we are facing needs in times of emergencies, we also will get that extra assistance in return.”
Wisconsin’s peak fire season typically occurs in the spring shortly after the snow-cover disappears. This also is the time landowners are outside conducting property clean-up and choosing to burn ground materials instead of composting or recycling.
“Many people think that lightening starts most wildfires. In fact, 9 out of 10 wildfires nationwide are started by humans,” Koele said. “Wildfires sparked by humans in Wisconsin are most commonly caused by debris or trash burning on windy days. The easiest way to prevent these fires is to simply obtain a burn permit and follow the rules.”
Other common wildfire causes include:
• campfires left unattended;
• disposing ashes from woodstoves or fireplaces; and
• operating hot equipment in dry grassy areas.
To commemorate Smokey’s birthday, the DNR will be hosting several events at state parks, state forests, Wisconsin State Fair, DNR ranger stations and local fire departments. In addition, many libraries are conducting summer reading programs to help children understand the differences between good fires and bad fires.
Smokey is giving out bear hugs online, using #SmokeyBearHug. He’s also directing fans to his website, www.smokeybear.com, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter for more information about wildfire prevention.