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Don’t believe a cartoon talking bear on wildfires

Jim Cross

Smokey Bear lied to us. I know that may sound harsh but it’s true. He told us, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Ha! We know that there can be many causes of wildfires that we have no control over. I distinctly remember statistics from the year of our 2002 Missionary Ridge fire. That devastating wildfire burned 73,000 acres, destroyed 47 homes and cabins, and caused the death of a firefighter. Experts believe that sparks from a car dragging its muffler started the fire.

Seven out of 10 wildfires that year were started by lightning and 2 1/2 out of 10 were started by out-of-work firefighters. In the Rocky Mountain states, 70% of all forest fires are lightning-caused. During one 10-day period in July 1940, national forests in western Montana and northern Idaho reported 1,488 lightning fires. Lightning strikes the earth about 100 times every minute, approximately 8 billion strikes per day.

Lightning strikes Texas more than any other state, partly due to its size and partly due to the wrath of the gods. Florida and Oklahoma are also at or near the top of that list. Hmmm. We are also at greater risk of lightning strikes in Colorado but that is more because of our mountains and elevation than to vengeful gods. We have been fortunate to have two monsoons this summer. Although thunderstorms bring much needed moisture, they also bring lightning.

Other causes can be equipment, such as a chain saw, a lawn mower an electric fence or even a train. A story in The New York Times on July 5 stated that high winds can send power lines careening into each other and even electrocuted birds can start fires. A bird can rest on one wire without a problem. But touching two wires simultaneously or touching one wire and a piece of grounded equipment, such as a transformer, can cause trouble.

In 2017, a hawk carrying a snake lit a 40-acre blaze in Montana. That was one of at least 44 wildfires caused by electrocuted birds in the United States from 2014 to 2018. I’m not sure if this lends more credibility or less to the “Birds Aren’t Real” movement. The Birds Aren’t Real movement claims that over 12 billion birds in the U.S. have been killed by the government and replaced with drone replicas designed to spy on American citizens. The movement’s founder Peter McIndoe explains that birds sit on power lines to recharge themselves. Kind of gives you pause if you attended Durango’s Fourth of July drone display. Is the government behind this? (Cue “The Twilight Zone” theme.)

I feel more betrayed by Smokey than I do by Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. Santa only asked if I had been a good boy. E. Bunny never really communicated very well. The Tooth Fairy left me money, though not the $5.36 per tooth that a recent poll found (CBS). Inflation is everywhere. However, Smokey Bear spoke directly to me on TV and in ads saying that only I could prevent forest fires. Uncle Sam used the same tactic saying he wanted me to go to Vietnam. I have since been forever skeptical of anyone who points at me, speaks directly and challenges me in that way.

Don’t believe everything on the internet, in an ad or you hear on the radio or see on TV or hear from any human or most especially from a talking bear. Do your research, educate yourself from reliable unbiased sources, then arrive at your conclusion. We won’t be fooled again! ... Well yeah, we probably will.

Jim Cross is a retired Fort Lewis College professor and basketball coach.