Home News Local News Capitan to host national wildfire prevention ‘field trip’

Capitan to host national wildfire prevention ‘field trip’

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Fire prevention efforts and the Smokey Bear educational campaign will combine during a November “virtual field trip” broadcast from Capitan. (Submitted Photo)

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The Amazon rainforest fire has grabbed the world headlines, a current reminder of the importance of reminding or teaching people about fire safety.

More than just a cute, furry animal, the black bear cub rescued from a Capitan Mountains fire in 1950 became the first living Smokey Bear, the mascot of a national fire prevention educational effort. (Submitted Photo)

In the United States, the 75-year fire Smokey Bear prevention education effort has been underway, and several groups will conduct a “virtual field trip” in November at the Smokey Bear National Park in Capitan to connect teachers and students nationwide to the message.

“What we want them to learn about is how to prevent fires, of course, at home and outdoors, especially if you are in a high-risk area,” said Richard Shahan, a producer with the Prince William Network, a K12 distance learning division of Prince William County Schools in Virginia.

The network is collaborating with many partners on the educational outreach effort. Those partners include PBS stations in Albuquerque, Portales and Las Cruces and the U.S. Forest Service. The educational project includes a website (smokeybearlive.org) and lesson plans; an introductory video about the Smokey Bear fire prevention campaign to be posted on the website on Oct. 6; and the virtual classroom broadcast from Capitan on Nov. 7.

“This really aligns with our mission of outreach and our mission of education,” said Adrian Velarde of KRWG Public Media of Las Cruces. “So it really allows us to reach people in a different way.”

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The entire project is linked to the 75th anniversary of the Smokey Bear campaign. Capitan has been chosen for the virtual field trip because of its connection to the Smokey Bear mascot.

The Smokey Bear campaign began in 1944 with a cartoon character as its mascot, but an injured black bear cub rescued from the Capitan Gap fire in 1950 became its first living symbol. The bear lived at the National Zoo in Washington D.C., but was returned to Capitan for burial in 1975.

The Smokey Bear educational message has changed over the years, from preventing all fires to preventing human-caused fires, said Lauren Rabon, a public affairs officer with the Lincoln National Forest, which is near Capitan.

“The difference there is that, through that history, we have realized that fire plays an integral role in the ecosystem,” she said. “So natural fires at certain times of the year and in certain areas can actually have some benefits to the area.”

Human activity caused 89% of the wildfires in the United States in 2018, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. An 18-year average of fire data from the agency indicates that humans are responsible for 61,375 wildfires, affecting 2.8 million acres each year. The average number of human-caused wildfires in New Mexico each year is 3,761.

Lincoln National Forest has ongoing educational efforts with school-age children to teach about fire management, fire prevention and fire ecology, as well as about biology, watersheds and other natural science topics, Rabon said. The Forest Service office heading up the collaboration with the November virtual field trip is in Washington D.C.

The November web event is expected to involve teachers and students from the Capitan schools, firefighters and scientists with the Forest Service, and some people who knew the Smokey Bear cub.

Information about lesson plans and registration for the virtual field trip is available at smokeybearlive.org.