Wildfire season is upon us in Penn-sylvania. Although the snow has dampened the ground, lessening the chance of a fire starting, it still can happen.
According to statistics from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, 85 percent of wildland fires occur during the spring wildfire season, which stretches from March to May.
Smokey Bear inspects a fire rake, a tool used to fight wildfires, at the Resource Management Center in Waterville.
Smokey Bear, the iconic furry face of fire prevention, recently visited the Tiadaghton State Forest and its new Resource Management Center in Waterville.
Tiadaghton State Forest is comprised of 155,000 acres that mostly are in Lycoming County, with tracts that extend into Tioga, Sullivan, Potter, Clinton and Union counties, according to DCNR. It also is referred to as District 12.
During the visit, Smokey and Jake Richards, forest fire specialist supervisor, sat down to talk about wildland fires and the value of prevention.
Last year, about 142 acres were burned in wildland fires in District 12, Richards said.
"Of those fires, one was caused by careless debris burning, one was caused by children playing with matches, one incendiary, one (by) electrical lines, two from equipment use and one was from lightning," he said.
"Nine out of 10 wildland fires are caused by humans every year," Smokey added.
Q&A with Smokey Bear:
When is wildfire season here and why is it at those times?
In Pennsylvania, the woods become the driest between March, April and May. This is before the springtime when leaves develop, come out and fully protect the surface from drying out. Then, of course, we have another fire season later on in the year, in the fall, which usually is in September, October and November. That is (due to) the drying and curing of the leaves and smaller finer fuels (such as twigs and pine needles), along with the leaves falling off the trees.
Smokey, you have been around for a long time. How long have you been doing your job?
Since Aug. 9, 1944, I have been the national symbol for forest fire protection and prevention. That's when I showed up on posters, carrying the message of wildland fire prevention.
Everyone thinks you have a middle name. Is that true?
My proper name is Smokey Bear. You would not want anyone calling you Jessica "THE" Welshans, would you?
You have a really cool history of how you became a living symbol. Can you talk about it?
Wildland firefighters and forest rangers found me after I survived a fire in the Capitan Mountains in New Mexico. I was covered in soot and smelled a lot like smoke, so they named me Smokey Bear. That was in 1950.
I see you have gotten into technology now. You have a website; what do you use it for?
That is correct. I have a lot of people who visit my website, www.smokeybear.com. It has a lot of information on how adults, young people and children can be careful with fire and how to prevent fire from spreading into the forest. And, if they happen to live in a forested area, how to protect their home from forest fires.
What else do you use technology for today?
Well, I now can check the weather quicker instead of wetting my finger and sticking it in the air. (Or just sniffing the air.) I can have quicker contact with all my other friends and volunteers so we can spread prevention words and messages.
Can you give us some tips on how to prevent forest fires here in Pennsylvania?
Always be careful with any type of outdoor burning, especially during dry and windy days. If it's dry and windy, do not attempt to burn any debris or any brush. Be careful with the use of outdoor equipment that may cause a spark. If you are camping, always make sure your campfire is dead and out before you leave. It is very important that children do not play with matches or lighters.
Who helps you fight the wildfires in this area? Why are these people important?
A hundred percent of the wildland fires here are fought by volunteers. The forestry department and I rely a lot on the volunteer fire companies and their crews and anyone who is involved in the suppression of wildand fires. These are the people who we count on to get the job done.
What is your favorite thing to do when you aren't telling everyone the dangers of forest fires?
I like to sit back after a long, hard day, read a good book and munch on some dried blueberries and acorns, and just enjoy the solitude and quietness of the woods.
Who is your best friend and why?
Best friends ... They are the children who heed the fire prevention message and help me spread the word that only you can prevent forest fires.
Do you eat a balanced diet?
I would be lying if I said I did.
What features of the new Resource Management Center do you like best?
I like the fish tank.
What is the one thing you don't like?
They keep the fish tank locked.
You often visit schools, libraries and community events. What is your message to kids?
I try to bring across to the kids they have to be very, very careful - if they find a match or a lighter - to report it to a responsible adult, and to never play with it. Even candles in their homes can be dangerous. I bring the fire prevention message to the schools and present it to the children so they, in turn, can talk to their parents and other children to warn them of the dangers.
How can someone from the community get a hold of you to come and visit?
All they have to do is contact their local forest district office and request a visit by Smokey. I will try my darndest to be there. You have to keep in mind that sometimes, if it's a very bad fire day, I may be busy doing other things but, in the end, Smokey always prevails.
BOXES .... CAN GO JUMP:
Governor Tom Corbett has proclaimed March 17-23 as Wildfire Prevention Week in Pennsylvania, noting warming temperatures and drying March winds have combined to increase fire dangers across Pennsylvania's forests and brush lands.
DCNR's Bureau of Forestry is responsible for prevention and suppression of wildfires on the 17 million acres of state and private woodlands and brush lands. The bureau maintains a fire-detection system, and works with fire wardens and volunteer fire departments to ensure they are trained in the latest advances in fire prevention and suppression.