In my family, I’m considered somewhat of a wildfire education zealot. Much to my husband’s chagrin, I’ll even find ways to implant myself into related conversations with strangers in the checkout line at our neighborhood garden store; and I really get on my soapbox when talking to WUI residents with school age children. Recently, I heard about a wildfire education day that Karly DeMars, a Fire Mitigation & Education Specialist with the Central & HiLine BLM District Office in Lewistown, MT had put together – and I just had to learn more details!
Following her return from a recent fire assignment, I connected with Karly to get the scoop. I learned that working in conjunction with multiple interagency partners, DeMars has coordinated wildfire education days in the City of Lewistown during 2008, 2010 and 2012. Those three events exposed more than 1,900 Lewistown elementary school students to a wide-array of wildland fire topics. This year the event was held for the first time in Malta, and the five-hour extravaganza was called the HiLine Wildfire Education Day. It included approximately 350 students in Kindergarten thru sixth grade, from Phillips and Blaine counties (in the northeastern part of the state).
Students participated in hands-on activities that focused on preventing human-caused fires and they learned about wildland fire ecology and firefighting equipment and gear. Located throughout multiple educational stations were opportunities to learn about fire behavior, fire prevention, rangelands and fire, aviation operations, forestry disease and fire, historic use of fire, wildlife and fire, forestry insects and watch a demonstration with a match-stick forest. Talk about a wide range of topics!
An added treat was a lunchtime show with well known mascots Smokey Bear, Seymour Antelope and Honker the Blue Goose. The kids greeted the mascots with hugs and high-fives and even posed with them for pictures. At the end of the day, each student received an activity bag to commemorate their day of wildfire education.
This year’s Wildfire Education Day was sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management (Malta Field Office), in conjunction with firefighters from the Phillips and Blaine County Rural Fire Departments, Phillips County Disaster & Emergency Services, Fort Belknap Tribal Forestry & Fire, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service and Border Patrol.
Demars hopes to do the event again in 2014, and perhaps expand into an additional city.