Fire Sense Honored with 2023 Bronze Smokey Bear Award

SALT LAKE –  The interagency fire prevention campaign Fire Sense was honored by the US Forest Service, the Ad Council and the National Association of State Foresters with the bronze level of the Smokey Bear award at the NASF annual meeting in Baton Rogue, La., on September 20th. 

The Smokey Bear awards began in the mid-1950s to recognize organizations on the national level for their help in fire prevention. The Bronze Award has been awarded since 1962 and is awarded annually to organizations or individuals for outstanding contributions to statewide wildfire prevention efforts.

“This is a great honor for Fire Sense,” said Kayli Guild, the Fire Prevention and Communications Coordinator for the Utah Division of Forestry Fire and State Lands. “We launched this campaign to raise awareness surrounding the impact our behaviors as humans have on wildfire starts. Over the past two years, we have seen a drastic decrease in human-caused starts as we have seen Utahns implement Fire Sense.” 

In 2020, Utah experienced an unprecedented high fire year due to ongoing drought conditions. With the state being in severe drought conditions for nearly a decade, 1,143 human-caused wildfire starts were recorded that year, burning over 100,000 acres of land in Utah.  

Fire Sense was started the following year with funding from the Utah State Legislature and support from Governor Spencer Cox to help raise the public’s knowledge regarding their role in the state’s wildfire issue. Federal agencies that included the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs and the US Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with the state of Utah to help spread Fire Sense. 

“We couldn’t have seen this type of success without the help of our interagency partners and our cooperators,” said Brett Ostler, State Fire Management Officer for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. “They have been instrumental in helping this message reach the public.  We assist each other when fighting wildfires, so it only made sense to work together to help raise awareness around fire prevention.” 

Chris Delaney, State Fire Management Officer for BLM Utah, echoed Ostler’s sentiment that prevention is a collaborative effort. 

“Wildfire does not see boundaries – it has no regard for whether it is on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, or private lands,” adds Delaney. “So it’s important that we don’t see boundaries either when it comes to our efforts to prevent wildfires. Collaboration is essential in tackling an issue that affects us all.” 

Lucas Minton, the Forest Service Intermountain Region Fire Director, emphasized that the efforts and recognition of the Fire Sense campaign on a national level could only be possible through the partnerships between each agency. 

“Our interagency partnerships are imperative to the success of wildland fire programs,” Minton said. “Fire prevention has become even more vital as we continue to see an increase in the wildland-urban interface here in Utah. It is an honor to see recognition for the hard work that has gone into the success of the Fire Sense initiative.”

Fire Sense identified five problematic behaviors that were the leading cause of wildfires in the state and provided common sense methods to prevent those behaviors from causing a wildfire. This strategy worked because Fire Sense is common sense!

Over the first two years of the Fire Sense campaign, Utah saw a 60% reduction in human-caused wildfire starts. 

Fire Sense continues to raise awareness surrounding the impacts humans have on fires that impact our wildlands.

“We are just getting started,” said Guild. “This campaign is just a few years old but has been a huge success.  That doesn’t mean we can return to our old habits.  We must remain vigilant and always use our Fire Sense”.