Anybody remember Smokey Bear?
He was the good-natured bruin in the forest ranger’s hat, who as guardian of the unspoiled forest wilderness, reminded reckless campers “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Old Smokey’s timeless message is one that — terrible pun alert — now bears repeating after events earlier this week.
Before the blessed rain in Maine soaked us to the gills, utterly preventable fires in Auburn and Turner were emblazoned with the telltale characteristics of the behavior Smokey always warned about.
In Auburn, a carelessly discarded cigarette sent a junkyard and its assorted regalia into flames. Tires, old cars, gasoline cans and debris were ignited into an raging inferno on Broad Street that took firefighters many hours to douse.
Then in Turner, the grasses were set aflame when a homeowner’s burn pile went haywire, torching the land and nearly taking the house with it. (The garage, however, was scorched.) Several other fires across Maine also claimed vehicles, woodlands and structures.
None of it was surprising. The recent stretch of exceedingly dry weather caused the U.S. Forest Service — those sage folks who brought us Smokey the Bear — to set the fire danger to high, a status that’s advertised on the exterior walls of local fire stations across Maine (sometimes by an image of Smokey himself).
What is surprising — sadly so — is the apparent belief that this status is a mere guideline, instead of a hard-and-fast rule. The fires that broke out on Monday were clear evidence that when the forest service says the danger of out-of-control fires is high, they aren’t joking around.
And in doing so, they’ve done their job. All the officials can do is warn us of the danger. What we must do — especially this time of year, when burn piles are prevalent — is pay heed. This means being attentive to safety, stamping out butts instead of flicking them away, and getting burn permits first.
Think of it this way, perhaps, and ask yourself: What would Smokey Bear do?
The answer is obvious. He would tell you, in his growly baritone, only you can prevent forest fires.
And you know what? He’d be right.

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