Fire leaders promote national fire strategy

As the U.S. Fire Administrator and fire leaders tour the East Coast this week there are two key goals — to honor those who died in fires this past year, and to promote an updated national fire strategy. On January 12 in Washington, D.C., Fire Administrator Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell and a range of national fire leaders will close out the week’s events by remembering those killed in fires while also highlighting key strategies and efforts needed to address the fire problem in the United States.

The national strategy grew from an October 2022 Summit on Fire Prevention and Control — a regular summit launched in 1947 by President Harry Truman. The current conclusions, based on a gathering of fire-science panelists, includes key wildlife components.

While many of the recommendations apply to fire wherever it occurs — “to invest in a national apprenticeship program to address the firefighter shortage” that also supports a more diverse and inclusive workforce; to establish a comprehensive firefighter cancer strategy; and to support behavioral health and suicide prevention — two in particular focus on wildfire concerns:

Prepare all firefighters for the climate-driven increase in wildfires in the wildland urban interface (WUI) by providing them with the proper training and equipment.

Create safer communities by implementing and enforcing codes and standards, especially in the WUI and underserved and vulnerable populations, and provide affordable and fire-safe housing.

The USFA web pages focused on the Summit on Fire Prevention and Control develops the science and the strategies — — and we’ll continue our coverage this week on how the strategies may help us address the firefighter cancer issue and find their way to the colleagues, fireground and communities we serve.


Betty White, advocate of wildfire prevention, dead at 99

She appeared in fire prevention public service announcements

Betty White and Smokey Bear
Betty White and Smokey Bear in One Less Spark, 2013.

Today the world lost one of its most beloved actresses, Betty White, who passed away weeks before her 100th birthday.

She worked in radio, television, and films for nine decades and may be best known for her work on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, Golden Girls, and Hot in Cleveland. She is also the only guest host of Saturday Night Live to receive a standing ovation at the end of the show.

Betty White honorary Forest Ranger
Betty White and Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, November 9, 2010

But firefighters may remember her as an advocate for wildfire prevention and for the public service announcements she filmed. In 2010 she was appointed to the position of Honorary Forest Ranger. She said in interviews that she wanted to be a forest ranger as a little girl, but that women were not allowed to do that then. She was born in 1922.

The video below is part of a playlist of three very short pieces featuring Ms. White’s fire prevention activities.

YouTube won’t let the video below be added to the playlist because “it is intended for kids.” The 90-second video produced by the US Forest Service shows her being appointed to her position of Honorary Forest Ranger.

May she rest in peace.

Harry R. “Punky” McClellan, 1940 – 2021

A leader in fire prevention

Punky McClellan passed away on September 27, 2021 in Ojai California.  He had retired from the Sierra National Forest some 30 years ago. He began his FS career on the Los Padres National Forest working on an Engine and as a patrolman on the Ojai and San Marcos Ranger Districts.  He transferred to the Sequoia National Forest Hume Lake RD as the Fire Management Officer and then to the Sierra National Forest as the Assistant Forest Fire Management Officer.

Punky worked on many national level fire management assignments including the Safety First Program in the early 1970s which led to such things as minimum engine staffing, training and qualifications standards, firefighter safety equipment such as Nomex and fire shelters, etc. The project ultimately led to Congress assigning the Forest Service with the development of the ICS system for all California fire agencies and eventually to national implementation.

While on the Sierra Punky was funded and assigned a national office position to manage the National Fire Prevention Program.  He developed and distributed program materials for the Wildfire Strikes Home Initiative, developed training and guidelines for Fire Prevention Planning, and probably most memorable was the development of high visibility fire prevention education programs with professional sports teams and celebrities.  Radio and television public service announcements using the celebrities and athletes were produced and thousands of fire prevention education materials were developed and distributed. In 1987 he organized a National Smokey Bear Day Event at every Major League baseball stadium.

After retirement Punky continued with his passion for fire management through his company THE FIREHOUSE.  Working with NFPA and local jurisdictions he developed an urban fire safety program and set of characters called the Preventor Program and developed a wildland set of characters for the Fire Education Team Program managed by the Department of Interior. He managed the training and mobilization of National Interagency Fire Prevention Teams.  He authored several books including “REMEMBER ONLY YOU” – A History of Outdoor Forest Fire Prevention Advertising and THE FRONT LINE – A Look at Some of America’s Historic Firehouses.  He was active internationally with work in Russia, Mexico and Canada.

Punky is the only person to have received all three National Fire Prevention Awards – Bronze, Silver and Golden Smokeys.  He was a recipient of the Secretary of Agriculture’s Superior Service Award, as well.

Plans are underway to build a memorial statue and scholarship fund on Punky’s behalf.  A Gofund Me account is being established but in the interim donations toward that effort can be forwarded to Riley McClellan at 2660 Alamos Avenue Clovis, CA  93611.

Danny Jones
Three Forests Interpretive Assn.
30330 Watts Valley Rd
Tollhouse, CA   93667
(559) 855-8419

Success story — fire prevention along Interstate 84 in Idaho

Average fire size decreased by 95 percent

I-84 Fire prevention wildfire Idaho

In order to deal with an increasing number of wildfires that were starting along Interstate 84 southeast of Boise, Idaho the Bureau of Land Management worked with local cooperators to establish a fuel modification program along the highway.

Their first action, from 2007 to 2012, was to reduce the existing vegetation by mowing, constructing fuel breaks, and establishing perennial grasses to reduce invasive annuals in the right of way adjacent to the interstate. It is a small sample size but during this period there was little significant change in the annual acres burned, average fire size, or the number of fires.

During the next seven years, from 2013 to 2019, the treatment strategy also included reestablishment of the gravel apron along the edge of the pavement surface to a minimum of 12 feet. The implementation required years of adaptive management and hard work, but the effort is producing results: average fire size for the last seven years has been reduced 95 percent even though traffic flow increased by more than 30 percent.

I-84 Fire prevention wildfire Idaho

I-84 Fire prevention wildfire Idaho

Images and graphics: BLM

Oregon enlists Bigfoot for help with wildfire prevention

Bigfoot wildfire prevention

The Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal’s “Bigfoot: Believe in Fire Safety” campaign is returning for the 2020 wildfire season, asking Oregonians to protect their communities by preventing wildfires.

“This really comes down to protecting communities and preventing wildfires,” says State Fire Marshal Jim Walker, of the OSFM’s Bigfoot campaign. “Wildfire prevention begins with all of us. Together we can make a positive impact. Since most wildfires are started by people, please do your part to prevent them.”

In response to the challenges of recent wildfire seasons, the OSFM enlisted Pacific Northwest icon Bigfoot, friend in fire prevention, to inspire the public to take action and reduce risks of human-caused wildfires.

The campaign first launched in spring 2019. From the start, Bigfoot served as an iconic messenger to encourage Oregonians and visitors to protect our communities and homes from human-caused wildfires.

OSFM’s Fire Prevention Coordinator Stephanie Stafford made the connection that wildfires occur where Bigfoot “lives,” which created the opportunity to promote awareness around fire prevention in the wildland urban interface (WUI). Data show the most costly fires in recent years nationally all occurred on WUI lands.

Wildfire threats to Oregon’s communities have led to longer and costlier fire seasons for state and local agencies. The wildfire problem also has captured the attention of Oregonians. Statewide they see the effects of fires on forests, as well as on homes in the wildland urban interface.

In the past two years, data collected in Oregon for the National Fire Incident Reporting System show there were 14,971 outdoor fires with 554,196 acres burned. Most of these outdoor fires were caused by unintentional human ignition rather than natural sources such as lightning.

The OSFM will be working with its more than 300 Oregon fire service partners to help share Bigfoot-themed education and branding materials that encourage Oregonians to “believe in fire safety,” around their homes and when recreating around their communities and in the outdoors.

The Oregon fire service plays an important role in providing critical first response for initial suppression of many wildfires that begin in their jurisdictions and can often spread to public lands.

In 2019, fire agencies helped Bigfoot reach residents statewide, and the OSFM will be providing Bigfoot materials for agencies to share and motivate their residents to prevent wildfires.

Bigfoot wildfire prevention

More than 40 Bigfoot fire prevention posters can be downloaded at the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s website.


Proposal for Major Wildfire Action Plan in California

Photo by Jeff Zimmerman
Tubbs Fire, October, 2017. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.

Retired Fire Chief John Hawkins has written what he calls a “Major Wildfire Action Plan” for the state of California. The Chief describes the document as “comprehensive and broadly addresses the wildfire problem via the four accepted phases of emergency management: Prevention, Response, Recovery, and Mitigation.”

The catastrophic fires of 2017 and 2018 in California are evidence that something needs to change. Maybe this four-page document will help move the conversation along.