5 Alternatives To Fireworks This (Very Dry) Fourth of July

wildfireIt’s hard to imagine the Fourth of July without fireworks, but for drought- and fire-stricken regions like Colorado, that’s the way it’s going to be this year. If you happen to be living or traveling in a no-fireworks zone, don’t despair. There are still ways to celebrate our nation’s birth without setting it ablaze.

Since I’m in Colorado right now, I brainstormed with a group of rangers at Boulder’s Chautauqua Park (which is adjacent to the now 90%-contained Flagstaff Mountain blaze). Our ideas, below:

1. Organize a block party

2. Go to a laser show (or hold your own; those PowerPoint things are for more than just entertaining cats)

3. Have a picnic or barbecue and stargaze

4. Go to a concert in a park or other outdoor venue

5. Go camping, minus the open fire

[Photo credit: Flickr user H Dragon]

The Stop, Drop and Role Technique for Fire Safety

Forest fires impact national parks

Forest fires sprung up in national parks last weekWhile parts of the eastern United States continue to struggle with too much water in the wake of Hurricane Irene’s passing, out west the dry conditions have led to forest fires that are having an impact on two of the nation’s most popular national parks.

Late last week, a fire sparked up on the edge of Yosemite National Park when a motor home caught fire. The blaze quickly spread to the Stanislaus National Forest, which borders Yosemite, closing down a popular road leading into the park itself. Over the course of the past five days, the fire has consumed more than 4775 acres, and while firefighters feel they have it under control, the park’s rough terrain hasn’t made the battle an easy one.

Fortunately, most visitors to Yosemite haven’t been effected by the blaze at all. In fact, park officials say that none of the park’s trademark vistas have been obscured by smoke, although nearby Merced River Canyon has seen its walls blackened by the fire. The park itself remains open, although visitors will want to check the status of Highway 140 before using that entrance.

Meanwhile, lighting strikes were responsible for igniting five forest fires in Yellowstone National Park last week as well. The fires were discovered throughout the day on Thursday after a storm passed through the area the night before. Park Service firefighters reacted quickly to each of the blazes, and they were contained before the flames could spread too widely. Yellowstone remains at a “very high” risk for wildfires at the moment however, and heading into the long Labor Day weekend, there are some concerns about more fires springing up.
Yellowstone was of course the site of one of the largest and most devastating forest fires in U.S. history, when more than 793,000 acres were consumed by flames in 1988. The remnants of that wildfire are still evident today, but it has also brought renewed life to the park’s ecosystem as well. While it is a long, slow process for the forest to rebuild itself, it is amazing to see plants and animals return to the park as the natural ecological forces take over.

If your Labor Day plans include camping in a local, state, or national park, be sure to check-in with park rangers to find out of their are any fire restrictions in effect. Campfires, grills, or camping stoves can all be very dangerous during the late summer.

You can also check inciweb.org to find the status on the most recent wildfires in your area as well.

[Photo credit: AP Photo/The Reporter via Rick Roach]

Smokey Bear returns, still fighting wildfires

An icon in the advertising world returned to the airwaves recently when the Ad Council and the USDA Forest Service, launched a new campaign featuring Smokey Bear, who continues to remind us that “only you can prevent wildfires.” The new campaign includes a series of PSA’s that are already airing on television, as well as an educational DVD designed for elementary children.

Smokey first made his appearance back in 1944 and over the years he has become one of the most recognizable animated characters of all time. Smokey has educated several generations of children about the dangers of forest fires, and since his introduction, the number of acres that are burned up annually has gone down from 22 million in 1944, to 6.5 million today.

Since his humble beginnings, Smokey has been trying to warn us about wildfires and their causes. For instance, did you know that 9 out of 10 forest fires are caused by people? Most are due to campfires left unattended, trash burning on windy days, arson, careless discarding of smoking materials or BBQ coals. We often operate under the false assumption that they are a natural occurrence caused by lightning, and while that does happen, it is quite rare.

With his return, Smokey brings a snappy new slogan that invites you to “Get Your Smokey On.” He also continues to remind us of our responsibilities when we use fire in the wild, and that even after all these years, he still needs our help to prevent the nearly 70,000 wildfires caused by humans each year.

In another example of his jump to the 21st century, Smokey can be found on all the regular social media outlets, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Or you can check out the all new Smokey at SmokeyBear.com.

(Articled edited to get Smokey’s name right! We can’t have him attacking after all!)