DETROIT — It’s been 75 years of fire prevention and on Friday it was time to celebrate.
All across Michigan, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other partners celebrated Smokey Bear’s 75-year legacy of promoting safe, responsible enjoyment of the nation's forests, according to a DNR press release.
“For 75 years, Smokey Bear has gently reminded us that it’s easy to take simple actions that go a long way toward protecting the places we love,‘ said Debbie Begalle, chief of the DNR Forest Resources Division.
Debra-Ann Brabazon, fire prevention and education specialist for the Huron-Manistee National Forests, said Smokey had appearances all over the state on Friday.
“How does he do it? Time travel I’m guessing,‘ she said.
Brabazon and other members of the forest service celebrated Smokey’s special day by going with him to the Detroit Tigers versus Kansas City Royals baseball game in Detroit. Forest Service junior ranger volunteer Spencer Richardson was there escorting Smokey Bear.
Smokey handed out baseballs after the game and took photos with people. This was to bring awareness about Smokey Bear, as a lot of kids are unaware of him, Brabazon said.
Since 1944, Smokey Bear has reminded the American public that, “Only you can prevent wildfires.‘
Smokey’s signature slogan refers to the fact that nine out of 10 wildfires nationwide are human-caused and thus preventable, according to a forest service press release.
“After 75 years, Smokey Bear’s wildfire prevention messages are more relevant than ever,‘ said Huron-Manistee National Forests Supervisor Leslie Auriemmo. “As wildfire seasons grow longer and more intense, it is essential that everyone take simple steps to protect our natural resources and our communities.‘
Those steps include burning backyard debris under safe conditions, properly extinguishing campfires and creating defensible spaces around the home.
Brabazon said people are careless all the time when it comes to fire safety. They will dump their fire coals out before they are extinguished or don’t extinguish them at all.
She said people should put out their campfires and put out abandoned campfires they find. They should make sure they have a spark arrestor, which goes on the muffler system of a chainsaw or UTV, that prevents the device from causing a fire.
There are other fire prevention methods as well. If someone sees trees are too close to a power line, they should let officials know who can take care of them. Also, people should look out for tree limbs near their chimney or wood stove flute and make sure the chimney is cleaned out before use.
“It’s about being conscientious and being aware,‘ Brabazon said.
What’s fascinating is fire prevention isn’t a new concept. It’s constantly getting facelifts to fit society’s needs. They didn’t have chainsaws a hundred years ago, but now need to factor that into prevention efforts, Brabazon said.
It’s about preventing an accidental spark from lighting a fire versus a natural fire or fire that is used as a management tool. Having a symbol like Smokey Bear can help to remind people of the repercussions of fire carelessness.
When kids play with matches and start a fire that destroys a forest, the animals don’t have a home anymore or food to eat. It’s not like they have a Salvation Army to come help them, she said.
In honor of Smokey's birthday, the Forest Service would like to challenge the public to record themselves learning and singing the Smokey Bear song.
If people send in the video to the U.S. Forest Service through Facebook messenger or email a link to them and the Forest Service likes it, they will put it on their Facebook page, Brabazon said.
Brabazon’s also looking for people to be volunteer junior rangers, who can be any age. The forest service can’t be everywhere at once and are looking for ways to get others involved.
“Everybody is a wildfire prevention messenger,‘ Brabazon said.