Help us spread the word: fire prevention doesn’t mean suppression

Do you know the BIG differences between “fire prevention” and “fire suppression”?

Fire suppression is how we put out wildfires. Sometimes, wildfire suppression is avoided, like in fire-dependent ecosystems where people don’t live close by. Other times, in areas where people do live close by, fire suppression is critical to saving lives, homes, and communities.

Suppressing wildfires on landscapes that are drought-prone and/or fire-dependent is extremely difficult. It’s even more difficult in the wildland-urban interface (called the WUI), where for economic and social reasons, natural fire patterns haven’t occurred for some time. As a result of fire suppression and other factors in these more highly populated WUI areas, some surrounding forests have become saturated with dead and damaged trees prime for burning.

Fire prevention has nothing to do with suppressing fires of any kind – natural (e.g. lightning strikes) or unnatural. The term fire prevention means taking precautions to prevent human-caused, unwanted wildfires before they begin. Fire prevention is not responsible in any way for fire suppression in the WUI, or anywhere else.

Often, we hear “fire prevention” and “Smokey Bear” in the same sentence. That’s because fire prevention has been Smokey’s sole focus since 1944. Smokey Bear’s campaign strictly advocates for personal responsibility. For instance, Smokey encourages campers to completely extinguish their campfires, residents to be careful while debris burning, and motorists to avoid dragging chains and creating sparks.

Today, about 9 out of 10 wildfires are human-caused and unwanted. These are the fires Smokey aims to prevent.

Understanding the differences between the terms “fire prevention” and “fire suppression” is important. Help us spread the word: Smokey has never, and will never, advocate for or against fire suppression. Smokey only wants us to be careful with fire.

Have questions? Contact Communications Director Whitney Forman-Cook at wforman-cook@stateforesters.org.