Iconic Smokey Bear Turns 70!

Fire's Role in Nature

The official approach to dealing with fire on natural lands has changed over the years. We now know that fire is an important part of many ecosystems — they've evolved to burn periodically and regenerate. What's more, putting out every single fire can result in a buildup of fuel that makes future fires more severe. "We did such a good job of putting fires out for a hundred years that it's contributing to the issues we're having now with extreme wildfires," Hernandez explains.

So naturally occurring wildfires are handled differently from how they used to be. "We have a thought-out process to try to allow fire to play a natural role where it can, where it doesn't endanger the public or infrastructure," he says. If conditions are deemed safe and the fire is judged to be doing some good on the land, it may be allowed to burn.

But Smokey's message to people remains the same, because nothing has changed when it comes to the fires that start from human activity. "We understand that fire is a valuable component to a healthy ecosystem, but it shouldn't confuse the fire prevention message," Hernandez says, "because those accidental human starts — we put them all out."


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