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Wildland fires can be catastrophic for forests but also for homeowners and their property.  Fires are often caused by natural factors, but by far, the largest cause of wildfires is man-related.  Learning about wildfire prevention and what you can do to help will reduce the number of fires.  Preventing forest fires is everyone’s responsibility!  The Northeast Forest Fire Protection Commission's Prevention and Education Working Team (PEWT) offers several ways to take part.  See the Prevention section for more information.



Even though wildfire is not much of a threat during the winter in the northeast, we would like to share this one minute long Smokey Bear 75th birthday “shout out” with the wildfire prevention community. Thanks to our friends at the Oxford Elementary School in Maine and the Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources for the animated portion. The four minute long animated Smokey Bear video and song can be found at the link below and is available for teachers to use anytime.


Mulch is commonly used for residential and commercial garden landscaping for aesthetic purposes, reducing weed establishment, conserving moisture in the soil, and to maintain soil temperatures. Because it is composed of organic residue including shredded bark, leaves, hay, woodchips and other products, it is also a highly combustible material.

The ignition potential of mulch from a fire source such as a cigarette butt is underestimated because a fire won't necessarily start right away. It can take anywhere from an hour to a day or more after a cigarette butt is thrown into it before open flames appear. During that time the fire can expand quite a distance under the top layer without any visible notice. This may, in part, be attributed to people typically placing new mulch over old mulch creating an accumulation whereby the old layers underneath become dry and brittle and more combustible.

Fires that started in garden mulch have had devastating results on Prince Edward Island (Canada) the past number of years; none more than the 29 unit senior’s apartment building and 16 unit motel that burned this past summer. Luckily no one was seriously injured but results could have been very different.

Investigation into the apartment building fire indicated that the mulch was smoldering for approximately 8 hrs before it ignited in open flames and leapt up the building. Residents smelled the smoke the day before but just thought it was a neighbor with a recreational campfire in the backyard (which is a common occurrence on PEI); therefore, didn’t give it a second thought and didn’t take a look to be sure. The exact cause of these two fires is undetermined but is “highly likely’’ a discarded cigarette or piece of glass (which focuses intense heat into the mulch) is the culprit. Other major fires in recent years that started in garden mulch include an historic post office, a town hall, and a restaurant. 

On PEI, local Island fire departments respond to three or four mulch fires per week in summer months. Many are believed to be ignited by people flicking their cigarettes out the window or into landscaped areas with no regard for consequences. Consideration must be given to placement and ‘risk’ when using mulch as a landscaping amendment. Simple measures can reduce the risk of fire affecting your home or property. Here are a number of considerations when using mulch around your property.

  • Use a non-combustible ground cover such as crushed rock, brick, or pea gravel within 1.5 m of your home or in high risk areas (e.g. where folks may smoke or discard cigarettes).
  • Any ‘fire’ smell should warrant someone taking a look.
  • If you are putting fresh mulch down, make sure you take the old mulch away - mulch layers should be no more than three (3) inches thick.
  • When homeowners are watering plants it is a good idea to dampen the mulch - that way it stays moist and eliminates the ignition point.
  • Ensure there are proper smoking receptacles to discard cigarette butts in high use areas.
  • Keep a 15 cm ground-to-siding non-combustable clearance on your home as many types of siding and siding are very flammable.
  • Design landscape and beautification areas with potential fire ignition points and spread in mind.

  • This fall and winter take the time to review your landscape options and plan for fire-safe gardens and beautification projects.


In October 2019, the Prevention Education Working Team (PEWT) helped support the 3rd annual Cohesive Strategy Workshop in Plymouth Massachusetts. Three PEWT members were part of the Northeast Forest Fire Protection Commission's (NFFPC) Incident Management Team, led by Incident Commander Rich Schenk, that organized and ran the three day event.

A key part of the NFFPC Incident Management Team's work involved the four hour field tour at the nearby Myles Standish State Forest. This part of the tour talked about local, state and federal partners working together to restore pitch pine habitat.

A Smokey Bear 75th birthday display was also set up at the event. It consisted of official posters from Smokey’s 40th, 50th and 75th birthdays and a newly created poster entitled “The History of Smokey Bear in Maine.”

To read about the workshop in the Wickwed Local Plymouth.


With a very special 75th birthday celebration being planned for 2019 we thought that we would provide you with a little history refresher and some trivia regarding the longest running public service campaign in Ad Council history.

The cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Program was established in 1942. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service, The National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council.

In 1944 the Wartime Advertising Council teamed up with Walt Disney who permitted Bambi to be used for one year as the first cartoon animal to disseminate a national fire prevention message.

On August 9, 1944 a bear was selected to become the national symbol of forest fire prevention.

Artist Albert Staehle created the first images of the bear which would eventually be named “Smokey” Bear.

Rudy Wendelin took over the reigns as Smokey’s Bear’s official artist in 1946 and continued until his retirement in 1973.

In 1947 the well know slogan “Remember only you can prevent forest fires” became Smokey’s official message. This was used for 54 years until it was revised to “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires” in 2001.

On May 9, 1950 a 5 pound Black Bear cub rescued from a forest fire in Capitan New Mexico would become the first living symbol of forest fire prevention. The live bear would remain in residence at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. until his passing on November 9, 1976.

In 1952 the Smokey Bear Act, public law 359 was signed into law by President Eisenhower assigning protection of Smokey’s image under the management of the USDA Forest Service. Licensing agreements have provided millions of dollars in revenue dedicated for use in fire safety education and prevention.

A Junior Ranger program was established in 1953 and millions of children have participated learning how to prevent forest fires as Smokey’s Junior Ranger team.

Smokey Bear received so much fan mail at the Washington Zoo that he was assigned his own zip code, 20252. Now Smokey has his own website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram site as well as a YouTube channel.

This is just a brief offering of Smokey Bear trivia and history. For more information, wildfire prevention education materials and interactive programs please visit Smokey’s website at


Another great 75th birthday item was initiated by our friends at the Mid-Atlantic Compact. It’s a special edition insert for Highlights magazine about Smokey Bear and wildfire prevention.