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Stomp out wildfires before they begin

16 Apr 2004 | Lance Cpl. Justin V. Eckersley Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort

Smokey the Bear might be a cute fire-prevention mascot, but if there were no wild fires, the old bear could retire.

Wildfires are one of the most destructive natural forces on the planet, according to Sam Tyson, Fire Inspector, Fire Prevention Department, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

“While sometimes caused by lightning, most wildfires, nine out of 10, are caused by people,” Tyson said.

On average, 106,000 wildfires are sparked each year in the United States. These fires usually consume nearly four million acres of wilderness. However, wildfires are on the rise at a dangerously fast rate, according to Tyson. In just the year 2000, seven and a half million acres burned in the U.S.

“That is an area about the size of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Delaware combined,” Tyson said.

There are four main reasons that wildfires happen more often now, according to Tyson.
Forest handlers for years have allowed fuel, in the form of dead branches, fallen leaves and plant growth to accumulate on the forest floor. The fuel will feed a wildfire.

Another reason is the increased amount of hot, dry weather in the U.S. has strengthened the potential for wildfire disaster.

The weather patterns have also been changing all across the country, which causes wildfires to be harder to predict, therefore hindering prevention methods.

More homes are being built near wildlands, areas that are prone to fires. People are more likely to start a wildfire if they live in these areas.

With the danger of brushfires at its highest in years, residents of Fightertown should be especially aware of their actions, and take steps to avoid starting fires.

Be careful with cigarettes, and avoid smoking outdoors if possible, according to the National Fire Interagency Center website, Know the county’s outdoor burning regulations. Never burn trashunlawfully. Double check campsites to ensure fires are out before leaving the area. Never take burning sticks out of a fire. Keep stoves, lanterns and heaters away from flammable materials. Store flammable liquids in a safe place. Never use stoves, lanterns or heaters inside of a tent.

“Remember what Smokey the Bear says: ‘Only you can prevent forest fires,’” Tyson said.

One day, Smokey the Bear might not have to say that, and the mascot can retire in peace.