After a long and successful career, Smokey Bear is retiring in an effort to change the way people think about fire.
Stefan Hood of the BC Wildfire Service says they are trying to shift people’s focus away from how to suppress fire toward how to live with it. They are visualizing that change through the retirement of Smokey Bear and the introduction of their new mascot: Ember the Fox.
According to the BC Wildfire Service, last summer was the busiest wildfire season on record, and three of the last five years have all been in the top three.
Hood said that it’s time to change the messaging behind fires from ‘all fires are bad’ to a more modern concept.
“Fire on the landscape can be a good thing,” said Hood. “When it’s done a proper way at a proper time.”
Hood said that fire suppression in B.C. has broken the natural cycle of fire on the landscape. More than 100 years ago, fires caused naturally by lightning or through cultural burning would go through the Okanagan and Columbia Valley, keeping the ecosystem in balance.
“We’re getting ourselves back to that natural state and we’re using prescribed fire to do that,” said Hood. Prescribed fires lit and controlled by professionals help bring natural fuel levels down to lower the intensity of wildfires.
Ember is the new mascot for the FireSmart program, and unlike Smokey, her design was conceived, designed, and developed by Canadians. Her messaging articulates a different approach than Smokey’s original: “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.” FireSmart’s re-branded messaging is more expansive and includes what experts have learned about fighting fires and its cultural role within Indigenous communities.
The FireSmart program speaks to what the homeowner can do to increase the survivability of their home and structures, and the steps you can take to protect your home before an evacuation order.
The BC Interior Forestry Museum is taking possession of the iconic costume, with plans to build an exhibit about wildfires. According to the museum, the exhibit will cover the history of fire on the local landscape and people’s relationship with fire.
For more information about the FireSmart program visit firesmartbc.ca.