Did you know that more than 100,000 wildfires clear 4 million to 5 million acres of land in the U.S. every year? Wildfires, which travel at speeds of up to 14 miles per hour, can be extremely destructive, but they are truly “natural” disasters, necessary in nature’s cycle of birth and death. Fires return nutrients to the soil and also act as disinfectants, removing disease-ridden plant and insects. Their destruction of the thick tree canopies allows new birth on the forest floor.
Not all fires occur naturally, however, as a result of forces such as lightening. A majority–4 out of 5–can be attributed to human sources, such as campfires. Human error, coupled with ample amounts of fuel, oxygen, and dry conditions, creates a recipe for catastrophe. Recent years of hotter-than-average temperatures and extended periods of drought, along with some misplaced efforts to curtail critical, small-scale natural blazes, have dramatically increased the incidence of massive, destructive fires.
What can you do to prevent wildfires? Take a cue from everyone’s favorite friend of the forest, Smokey the Bear, who celebrates his 65th anniversary this year! Fire prevention starts with knowledge, followed by responsible action.
Educate your Kids.
Smokey the Bear has been teaching the public about fire prevention for
over six decades; in fact, “Smokey” is the longest running public
service announcement campaign in U.S history (one we could definitely
take some cues from in our own communications efforts–hats off,
Smokey)! At SmokeyBear.com, kids can learn about the science of
wildfire and its role in maintaining natural ecosystems. They can see
how professionals fight forest fires “in the field” and view a real
time wildfire map of fire locations across the U.S. Then, young forest
stewards can learn how to be fire safe outside and indoors, and,
finally, take the pledge to “get your Smokey on” to prevent wildfires.
Bonus: Follow “Smokey’s Journey” to check out vintage campaign posters and
Smokey memorabilia; there is also a resource page with downloadable logos. Teachers: Be sure not to miss the educators’ guides.
Explore the connections between wildfires and geography with these online mapping resources.
1. The Forest Service’s Remote Sensing Applications Center combines
print information with GIS and geotechnology to give visitors
geographic information about wildfires in the U.S. and Canada. This
site shows responses to fires, as well as active fire maps, aerial
sketches and available prevention programs.
2. See where wildfires, and other natural hazards such as severe storms,
floods, volcanoes, and droughts, are active around the globe with NASA’s
Earth Observatory satellite imagery.
3. For wildfire professionals, the Geospatial Multi-Agency
Coordination Group (GeoMAC), is a mapping application that offers
online maps of current fire locations and perimeters in the U.S. Fire
managers can use a standard web browser to view this information and
pinpoint the affected areas.
Images courtesy Mark Thiessen, SmokeyBear.com.