Forest and Fire Prevention
Smokey Bear in Delaware
Smokey Bear, an iconic figure for millions of Americans, is at the center of the longest-running public service campaign in U.S. history. Originating in 1944, Smokey Bear has continuously reminded young and old alike that “Only you can prevent wildfires.”
Every October (Fire Prevention Month), Delaware Forest Service staff members offer fire prevention programs featuring Smokey Bear to first-grade classrooms and other community groups. In 2011, staff provided 105 fire education programs to 9,399 students. Other efforts included participation in community events including the Abbott’s Mill Fall Festival in Milford, the Apple Scrapple Festival in Bridgeville, community-based holiday parades and volunteer fire company open houses.
The importance of educational programs about wildfire prevention is underscored by these sobering statistics:
- Wildfires have burned almost six million acres in the United States this year
- Many wildfires are caused by human activity:
In 2011, there were 10,249 wildfires caused by lightning, but 63,877 wildfires caused by human error (as reported to the National Interagency Fire Center).
- In 2011, more than 8.7 million acres burned due to wildfires in the U.S. and more than 5.4 million acres burned due to human-caused wildfires.
Some common ways people can start a wildfire:
- unattended debris burning
- equipment fires such as from lawnmowers, ATVs, power equipment
- unattended campfires
- carelessly discarding fireplace or BBQ ashes
In The Classroom
The Delaware Forest Service’s annual classroom visits are open to first-grade students in all of Delaware’s public, private, and charter schools. Blending interactive discussion and a short video feature, forestry professionals use the 45-minute classroom sessions as an important opportunity to teach children about the many benefits of trees and why fires are dangerous. DFS staff members discuss the following topics:
Benefits of trees:
- Wood products
- Food - fruit, nuts, syrup, cinnamon… even chewing gum
- Habitat - animals and wildlife depend on trees
- Air – trees help us breathe easier
- Recreation - tree are great for climbing or building a tree house
- Climate – trees provide shade on hot days and firewood on cold days
- Clean water – trees help filter pollutants
- Scenic beauty – trees provide vibrant color and make communities more livable
- Soil – trees help prevent erosion
Trees are a renewable resource; it’s okay to cut them down if we plant new ones.
- Products came from trees: aspirin, baseball bats, maple syrup, toothpaste
- Trees provide jobs and income; it’s important to support those who make a living from trees so they will continue to own forests that provide us with many benefits
Wildfires can be a danger to our trees. What can start a fire?
- Matches: you should never play with them – if found, give them to an adult
- Smoking: careless smoking is a major cause of fire
- Lightning: not all fires are man-made
- Campfires: these should never be left unattended and should be put out completely
After a short video featuring Smokey Bear, Delaware Forest Service staff review the information presented and remind children that it “only takes one match” to burn down an entire forest of beautiful trees. At the end of the program, students can expect a surprise visit from Smokey Bear in person! Smokey is always eager to meet the children and asks them to sincerely take the pledge: to never play with matches, to be careful around fire, and to report anything suspicious to an adult right away.
Delaware’s Smokey Bear program is coordinated by Ashley Peebles, the Delaware Forest Service’s Trainer/Educator. She can be reached at Ashley.Peebles@state.de.us or (302) 698-4551.
Smokey’s name and image are protected by the Ad Council, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters. Smokey Bear is only permitted to make public appearances in which the central theme is fire safety and wildfire prevention.
For her outstanding efforts to reach thousands of young people in Delaware through the Smokey Bear educational programs, Peebles was awarded the coveted “Bronze Smokey Award” from the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Program and was recognized by Governor Markell at the DFS’ annual Arbor Day ceremony.