More than 90 percent of wildfires are human caused. Wildfires destroy homes, farms and businesses, endanger lives and damage natural resources. Wildfires are a financial burden for local fire departments to extinguish and threaten the safety of first responders. Preventing wildfires benefits everyone. As Smokey says, “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires."
The Big Rivers Compact promotes fire prevention through school programs, public service announcements, ad campaigns and exhibits. Hundreds of students attend fire prevention programs every year and Smokey is always a huge hit with the kids.
Smokey Bear costumes may be available to loan to fire departments for fire prevention programs. Fire prevention materials such as posters, coloring books, bookmarks, pencils and rulers may also be available.
Safe Burning Tips
Some of the most common sources of human-caused wildfires are arson, debris burning, smoking, campfires and equipment use. Debris burning is one of the most frequent sources of wildfires. Here are some tips for safe debris burning:
- Check with your fire department for any open burning regulations.
- Avoid burning on dry, windy days when a fire can easily get out of control.
- Burn when humidity is higher and winds are calmer; before 10 a.m. or after 3 p.m.
- Clear vegetation 10 feet around burn piles and keep burn piles small.
- Be prepared. Have a water source and shovel nearby.
- Never leave a burning debris pile. Stay until it is completely out.
The Firewise USA Program encourages homeowners to take individual responsibility for preparing their homes from the risk of wildfire. The program provides resources to help homeowners learn how to adapt to living with wildfire and encourages neighbors to work together to prevent losses. Initiated in 2002 with 12 pilot neighborhoods, the national Firewise USA Recognition Program has nearly 1,000 active member communities in 40 states. The program, aimed at homeowners, provides specific criteria for communities regarding wildfire preparedness, and based on these criteria, offers national recognition for their work.
Firewise communities are those that have taken appropriate measures to become more resistant to wildfire structural damage. An online Firewise Toolkit, including a Firewise tips checklist for homeowners, is available on the Firewise website.
Firewise techniques include minimizing the risk of home ignition by carefully landscaping around residential structures such as thinning trees and brush and choosing fire-resistant plants, selecting ignition-resistant building materials and positioning structures away from slopes.
In addition, communities that have earned the special distinction of being recognized under the Firewise USA Program have followed a systematic approach to organizing and implementing a Firewise mitigation plan in their neighborhood. Program criteria and additional information about the program can be found on the Firewise website.
Smokey Bear is America's wildfire prevention icon. He has educated generations of Americans about their role in wildfire prevention. Created in 1944, the Smokey Bear Wildfire Prevention campaign is the longest running public service advertising campaign in U.S. history.
The campaign's original catchphrase was "Smokey Says – Care Will Prevent 9 out of 10 Forest Fires." In 1947 it was changed to "Remember... Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires." Most recently, in 2001, it was again modified to “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires” in response to a massive outbreak of wildfires in natural areas other than forests. The term "wildfire" applies to any unwanted, unplanned, uncontrolled fire in vegetation.
Despite the campaign's success over the years, wildfire prevention remains one of the most critical issues affecting our country and Smokey's message is as relevant today as it was in 1944.