With surge of visitors, fire prevention efforts more important than ever

USDA Forest Service Prevention Specialist

 Nicole Selmer, prevention specialist with the USDA Forest Service, leads a discussion with landowners on the status of local fires and Firewise best practices during Superior National Forest’s 2021 fire season. Photo courtesy of Northern Lakes Girl Scout Canoe Base by Ann McNally.

An estimated 13 million people visited national forests in the Eastern Region in 2020, the last year in which statistics are available. And by all accounts, 2021 was even busier for visitors to our national forests as more Americans sought outdoor recreational opportunities during the pandemic.

So many visitors to the region’s national forests can increase the risk of human-caused wildfires. In 2019, about 87% of wildfires across the nation were caused by humans. Abandoned campfires, followed by debris burning, are the two most common ways that human-caused wildfires get started on our region’s national forests.

With that in mind, the region’s fire prevention and mitigation program has been hard at work spreading Smokey Bear’s message: Only you can prevent wildfires.

Dennis Fiore, the Eastern Region Cooperative Fire program manager and fire prevention coordinator, manages the region’s fire prevention program efforts. He said that last year was an active one for spreading the fire prevention message. Fiore shared the program’s results with Eastern Region Fire and Aviation Management leaders at a recent virtual gathering.

“Because of the unexpected increase in recreational visitors to our forests, it made our job more challenging,” Fiore said. “We won’t know if there was an increase in abandoned campfires until we look at the data.”

Last year, fire prevention staff from across the region reached over 17,000 people in person, and 13,000 virtually, by hosting 58 events across the region. Important fire safety messages include:

  • How to properly put out your campfire.
  • Not dragging your chains with your trailer.
  • Cleaning up debris around your home.
  • Being responsible with fire ignitors and combustibles.

Fiore said about the region’s fire prevention program strategy, “We’re trying to change people’s behavior. It’s really important to educate people about being safe whenever they use fire and trying not to create unwanted human-caused wildfires.”

Smokey Bear meets volunteer firefighters

 Smokey Bear meets volunteer firefighters during the National Night Out in Wuori Township, Minnesota. USDA Forest Service photo by Heather Broughten.