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Forest Fires: Prevention is the first line of defence

A dry forest, some hot weather, and high winds: all it takes to set off a raging fire in these conditions is a lightning strike or a careless camper. Every summer, forest fires threaten people, property and valuable timber in Canada. But we've learned to combat these fires with a combination of scientific research, new inventions and old-fashioned courage. From lookout towers to water bombers to remote sensing that predicts fire, Canada has long been a world leader in the technology of fighting forest fires.

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The summer of 1958 has been hot and dry in British Columbia. Right now, 3,000 firefighters are battling over 400 forest fires throughout the province. Preventing more such fires is crucial, so all fire permits are suspended and forest areas are closed to visitors, reports CBC's Newsmagazine. With daily temperatures of 102 Fahrenheit (39 C) and humidity at 18 per cent, a carelessly thrown cigarette butt can set off a raging inferno. 
• About 42 per cent of forest fires are started by lightning strikes in dry conditions. Sawmills and sparks from trains have also been blamed for starting forest fires. But the majority of fires not caused by lightning are blamed on human carelessness such as discarded cigarette butts and inadequately extinguished campfires.

• The Canadian Forest Service uses the Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System to warn the public of fire risk. The system, developed over 60 years of research, considers weather patterns, moisture levels, available fuel and topographic information to assess the likelihood of a breakout. The system uses a four-stage coloured scale to indicate the risk of fire. Signs featuring the scale are posted in forest areas and officials use an arrow to point to the day's fire risk.

• When the arrow is in the green zone, the risk is considered low. Fire starts only from an open flame and spreads slowly.
• At medium risk, in the yellow zone, fire starts more readily and burns briskly.
• When the risk is high, or orange, a cigarette butt or cinder can set off a fire.
• At extreme risk, fire can start from a mere spark and will burn fiercely.

• Governments and forestry companies began forest fire prevention education in the 1940s. Smokey Bear has been the symbol of forest fire prevention in the United States since 1944 with his famous slogan: "Only you can prevent forest fires."
• In 1962 Ontario's forestry department created "Litter-Picking Pete," a character representing good outdoor manners. Pete was designed to complement Smokey's warnings rather than replace them.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Newsmagazine
Broadcast Date: Aug. 24, 1958
Duration: 4:07

Last updated: August 1, 2014

Page consulted on August 27, 2014

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