The concerned face of Smokey the Bear rises from the smoke of the worst wildfire in Colorado’s history. He is warning all of us – on the eve of Fourth of July celebrations – that only we can take responsibility for minimizing the danger we are in this summer.
A trip to Telluride, Colorado, last weekend brought to life the video images we’ve watched on our screens from afar. Three hundred miles away from our hotel, the Waldo Canyon Fire was raging out of control and about to devour over 300 homes on the outskirts of Colorado Springs.
We watched nervously as the cloudless sky filled with ominous smoke, creating this darkly beautiful sunset.Telluride is situated in a “box canyon,” which is really a large meadow surrounded on four sides by magnificent mountains. Before a tree can ignite, it has to dry out, thus fire moves much faster uphill than down as it pre-dries trees ahead of it, making our location feel more like a “tinder box canyon.”
The pine beetle has killed vast numbers of pine trees in the Rocky Mountains. The ongoing drought conditions were aggravated by another winter of insufficient snowfall in most mountainous regions of the western U.S., so our forests are essentially kindling ready to explode.There are a dozen other wildfires burning in Colorado alone, with over one hundred thousand acres burned.
Those of us living in California and other western states are collectively holding our breath, hoping to be spared the devastation Coloradans are suffering. While there’s little we can do to fires caused by lightning strikes, it’s time to remind ourselves that we can save human lives, as well as trees, wildlife, and wilderness areas, by following Smokey’s simple rules.
– News flash: Fireworks are dangerous! The joy they bring us can come with a hefty price tag. Why not leave them to the professionals this year?
– Smokers, please use fireproof receptacles for all smoking materials. Every cigarette butt that goes out a car window could take a life.
– Put your camp fire completely out – you should be able to touch the ashes with your hands. (Better yet, bring a lantern and a heater, and skip the fire altogether.)
– Use extreme caution when using any gas-fueled equipment like lawn mowers and leaf blowers. A single spark can burn down a forest – or a town.
– Embers flying hundreds of yards ahead is the most common way houses ignite from a wildfire, but clearing trees and brush from around your house will help decrease the danger to your property.
– If a wildfire approaches your area, stay alert to warnings from authorities while gathering your family, pets, and important belongings in case you must evacuate. Keep all your critical paperwork and family photos in one place so you can grab them quickly.
– Follow directions from the police and firefighters. These courageous men and women are risking their lives every moment they are on the frontlines of these monster fires, and they need your cooperation if they have any chance of saving your property.
As Smokey the Bear has been telling us for 65 years: “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!”
Will you pass along Smokey’s message to your friends and family?