As the rain and hail pummel Laramie, it’s hard to believe that wildfires raged not too long ago. This is the first year in almost a decade that the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest hasn’t been ablaze. 

It makes it a good time to celebrate Smokey the Bear’s 79th birthday this week. The fictional bear was created in 1944 in collaboration between the United States Forest Service and the Ad Council as a way to promote fire prevention. The original artistry showed the bear pouring water on a campfire with the words “Care will prevent 9 out of 10 fires.” In 1947, that logo was changed to the one still in existence and widely known: “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.”

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That motto is still true, as the National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook released by the National Interagency Fire Center issued a warning this month for warmer temperatures arriving in August for much of the country. While the Medicine Bow area is still in the clear, parts of the northern Rockies are in danger. Canada is in a record-breaking fire season, with more land than ever being burned, the most evacuations in history, and several fire-related casualties. Hawaii, though not in the Rockies, is also suffering from wildfires currently, exacerbated by low humidity and dry vegetation. 

Aaron Voos of the Medicine Bow-Routte National Forest Ranger District in Laramie said this forest “used to be called the asbestos forest because it wouldn’t burn. We don’t have a lot of wildfire on this forest.”

This year has been unseasonably wet, which is helping the National Forest recover some from the last decade. Voos said, “Broadly, in the last 10 years, Medicine Bow had probably the largest fires that have ever been seen on this forest.”

Though it’s been a good year, and fire restrictions have been greatly relaxed, the fact remains that Smokey the Bear’s message is still much-needed. Seventy-nine years of Smokey and yet:

“Human-caused fires are far and away the leading cause. Every single year,” Voos said. 

Though the moisture has been fantastic for the forest, “The basic Smokey bear stuff still applies. Put out your campfires, be careful with matches, and don’t drag chains behind your vehicle. Don’t throw a lit cigarette into the grass. Those basic things that have been preached for years and years.”

Voos also cautioned that a wet start doesn’t mean Medicine Bow is out of the woods. “It can lead to a bad fire season later on because the forest can grow a lot of fine fuels, and grass early on, so then if it dries out and the faucet shuts off, then all of a sudden you have a lot fuel that can lead to big fires later on,” which is contained in the National Intergency Fire Center’s August warning. 

Celebrate Smokey’s 79th birthday by putting out your campfires, even in this unseasonably wet time.

 

Wyoming Wildfires

In the last decade, wildfires have ravaged Wyoming's Medicine Bow National Forest. Until 2023, it seemed to rain ash more often than water.

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