Southern California has seen multiple wildfires spread across counties for almost a month now that have yet to be one hundred percent contained. Of the thirteen largest active wildfires, the Kincade fire spans the largest amount of acreage.
The fire has burned seventy-seven thousand and seven hundred and fifty-eight acres so far since October 23rd as seen on an interactive wildfire map on The Los Angeles Times website. This fire is only sixty-eight percent contained. The most recent fire as of November 1st is the Sobrante fire which has burned thirty-five acres so far, with a containment level of zero percent.
The causes of the fires are from things such as downed power lines, controlled burns that quickly became uncontrolled or lightning strikes. For the past seventy-five years, the Smokey Bear campaign has pushed for careful watch against forest fires with its infamous slogan, “Remember. . .only YOU can prevent forest fires.” However, many have found the campaign to have been more detrimental than helpful to the environment.
Hank Wickley (‘20), a student who grew up in California, shared his thoughts concerning the old campaign. “The Smokey Bear campaign, while helpful and useful, has ultimately done more damage to forests because of its very nature . . . small fires are often essential and helpful for the health of the forest. By preventing the small ones, big ones happen more often because more forest needs to get burned,” he said.
A controlled burn helps weed out the weak and sick plant life, leaving room for the stronger and healthier flora that survive to grow. In the attempt to prevent any types of fires, many trees and other plants have died or become sick amongst the healthy, leaving far too much kindling for an accidental or even controlled fire.
The Smokey Bear campaign was set into motion in response to a fear of attacks on national forests on the West coast during World War II. Camera Stevens (‘21), an environmental studies major, stated that “the Smokey campaign has given people a guidance and a safety net but that safety net has some holes in it that people just don’t grasp. It’s deteriorated our forests and allowed for fires to be seen as an issue instead of something that can help our ecosystem.”
In terms of what can be done in response to it, Stevens said, “Knowledge and a change in policy needs to be addressed and shown before we can go forward.”
When asked what his thoughts were on what could be done to help, Wickley responded, “I think the biggest thing that would help . . . would obviously be more rain. That, however, is out of anyone’s control. One thing that could be done would simply be to let the little natural fires happen for the forest, but keep them maintained for safety purposes.”
Fires hit close to home for Wickley as he said, “The Kincade fire that is currently out of control in Sonoma County, California is happening in my old backyard. I grew up there and it is scary to see places I know up in flames. I have friends out there that are working to put out the fires and I just hope to see it all end safely.”