Fire Timeline—Text Version
Research, Education & Public Awareness
John Muir's (1901) detailed observations of an 1875 fire in the sequoia forests of the southern Sierra Nevada provide a particularly vivid account of the patchiness of pre-settlement fire behavior.
“The fire came racing up the steep chaparral-covered slopes ...in a broad cataract of flames ...But as soon as the deep forest was reached, the ungovernable flood became calm like a torrent entering a lake, creeping and spreading beneath the trees ...There was no danger of being chased and hemmed in, for in the main forest belt of the Sierra, even when swift winds are blowing, fires seldom or never sweep over the trees in broad all-embracing sheets as they do in the dense Rocky Mountain woods and in those of the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and Washington. Here they creep from tree to tree ...allowing close observation...”
RELATED ITEMS: Restoring Fire to the Sequoias
In an attempt to reduce wildfires, Captain Boutelle ordered that camping in Yellowstone be allowed only in designated areas. This led to the system of designated campgrounds now common on public lands.
REFERENCE ITEMS: How the U.S. Cavalry Saved Our National Parks, H. Duane Hampton, Indiana University Press, 1971
As visitors to Yellowstone increased so did the number of wildfires. The Cavalry discovered that increased vigilance on the part of fire patrols was necessary to protect the forest. The commanding officer insisted upon rigorous enforcement of the camping regulations that required expulsion from the park of any campers who left campfires burning. He found that "one or two expulsions each year served as healthy warnings" and that these reinforced by a system of frequent patrols, "brought about the particularly good results of which we can boast."
REFERENCE ITEMS: How the U.S. Cavalry Saved Our National Parks, H. Duane Hampton, Indiana University Press, 1971
Gifford Pinchot observed:
“"Where such forest lands have been protected from fire, as they are very largely through the progress of settlement, young trees have usually sprung up in great numbers under or between the scattered veterans which had survived the fires, and a dense and vigorous young growth stands ready to replace, by a heavy forest, the open park-like condition which the fire had created and maintained...”
Fire Research Begins
Fire research began after Forest Service Chief Gifford Pinchot authorized a study on the history of forest fires to better understand the damage.
Value of Light Burning
California newspapers debated the value of light burning in maintaining forests and to prevent large, devastating wildfires.
H.H. Chapman, dean of the Yale School of Forestry, began his long-term study of fire and southern pines.
Sunset Magazine Publishes Article By G.L. Hoxie
Sunset Magazine publishes article by G.L. Hoxie entitled How Fire Helps Forestry: The Practical vs. the Federal Government's Theoretical Ideas that stated:
“...forest fire is a name of terror to all who love trees and who recognize the economic importance of forests...it will surprise the majority of readers to learn that prevention of fire may be made so complete as to menace the forests with greater danger than they now incur..." "Why not by practical forestry keep the supply of flammable matter on the forest cover or carpet so limited by timely burning as to deprive even the lightning fires of sufficient fuel..." "...fires to the forest are as necessary as are crematories and cemeteries to our cities and towns; this is Nature's process for removing the dead of the forest family and for bettering conditions for the living.”
REFERENCE ITEMS: Sunset 34 (August 1910)
Protection of Forests from Fire Bulletin
Forest Service Chief Henry Graves issued bulletin Protection of Forests from Fire that declared "The first measure necessary for the successful practice of forestry is protection from forest fires."
U.S. Weather Bureau, a part of the Department of Agriculture, began providing weather forecasts specific to wildland fire.
Fire Research Begins
The Forest Service put out an appeal to its experiment stations to initiate research on forest fires.
Arthur W. Sampson
Arthur W. Sampson, the first scientist at the original Utah Experiment Station in the Manti National Forest, investigated the role of fire in aspen regeneration and published his first finding on aspen regeneration.
A Policy of Forestry for the Nation
A Policy of Forestry for the Nation, by Henry B. Graves, USFS Forester, presented before the Forestry Conferences of 1919 outlined the objectives of fire protection:
- To prevent destruction and injury to standing timber by fire.
- To safeguard young growth already established within the older timber and on cut-over lands.
- To promote natural reproduction so far as this can be done by fire protective measures.
Effective fire protection is achieved only through a joint undertaking between public and private agencies in which all lands, regardless of ownership, are brought under an organized system.
RELATED ITEMS: A Policy for the Forestry for the Nation
U.S. Forest Service
U.S. Forest Service Appalachian Forest Experiment Station conducted studies of fire damage on area burned under control.
RELATED ITEMS: Appalachian Forest Experiment Station, 1921-1934
Fire Weather Warning Service
The Fire Weather Warning Service was established by the U.S. Weather Bureau and was headquartered in San Francisco.
First Duff Hygrometer Developed
Harry T. Gisborne and M.E. Dunlap developed and tested the first duff hygrometer, used to measure duff moisture content.
Fire Warning Service
U.S. Forest Service Appalachian Forest Experiment Station works in collaboration with the local Weather Bureau office for the creation of a far-reaching and carefully organized fire warning service.
Journal of Forestry publishes Aldo Leopold's article, Grass, Brush, Timber, and Fire in Southern Arizona in which he discusses the role of fire and grazing in the spread of brush across the state.
RELATED ITEMS: Grass, Brush, Timber, and Fire in Southern Arizona
Fire-control research begins in Missoula, Montana. Research continues today at the Missoula Fire Lab, and at labs in Macon, Georgia and Riverside, California.
Colonel John White
Sequoia-Kings Canyon Superintendent Colonel John White orders his rangers to conduct a number of controlled burns to reduce ground fuels even though this was against policy.
Herbert L. Stoddard
Ornithologist Herbert L. Stoddard published a classic in wildlife management: The Bobwhite Quail, its Habitats, Preservation, and Increase following 4 years of field work. Stoddard determined that quail populations in the South depended on a complex mix of land management practices and that fire may well be the most important single area.
Harry T. Gisborne
Harry T. Gisborne developed what he later called "my major research contribution" - a Fire Danger Meter that measured fire danger and administrative action needed to cope with prevailing or probably fire danger.
Fire Danger Stations Established
Eighteen fire danger stations had been established around the Intermountain West, including Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.
Osborne Photo Recording Transit
W.B. Osborne designed his Osborne Photo Recording transit, a swing lens panoramic camera made by Lupold-Volpel of Portland, OR. It was used by the USDA Forest Service and turned out 120-degree 4" x 6" photographs.
Airplane Tests Began
Tests began on using airplanes to drop fire retardants. It was not until 1947 that a formal aerial bombing project began, with the christening of a B-29 bomber called the Rocky Mountain Ranger.
Harry T. Gisborne
Harry Gisborne and his staff at the Priest River Experiment Station designed the visibility meter to help gauge fire danger. Gisborne's fire-danger meter incorporated multiple components to estimate fire hazard, visibility combined with factors such as relative humidity, hours of sunshine, wind speed, and fuel moisture to create a unified rating. Using Gisborne's model, greater visibility corresponded to heightened fire danger.
Fire Control Notes
Roy Headley, head of the U.S. Forest Service Division of Fire Control, introduced Fire Control Notes to establish "a common meeting ground" for wildland fire professionals. In 1961 the journal was renamed Fire Control Notes. Changes in wildland fire management policy in the 1970s led the journal to adopt a new name, Fire Management Notes, which was changed to Fire Management Today in 2000.
Small-scale Burns For Research Purposes
U.S. Forest Service Southeastern Forest Experimental Station in Asheville, NC conducted some small-scale burns for research purposes.
Harold Weaver, Bureau of Indian Affairs forester began prescribed burning on the Colville Reservation in Washington. Broadcast burning in dense stand of Ponderosa pine saplings reduced thickets from 2,430 stems per acre to 690, and "crop trees" responded to the reduced competition with greater diameter growth than in unthinned stands.
REFERENCE ITEMS: Journal of Forestry 41, January 1943.
Walt Disney released movie Bambi. Scenes of animals fleeing a forest fire increase the public's concern over wild fires.
Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Program
USDA Forest Service organized the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Program. War posters carried fire prevention messages, Careless Matches Aid the Axis and Our Carelessness, their Secret Weapon. In 1944 the Wartime Advertising Council decided to use an animal to carry the fire prevention message. Walt Disney agreed to lend the image of Bambi, for a year, to be the first to carry the message.
RELATED ITEMS: Smokey's Vault: 1944 Print Campaign
Civilian Conservation Corps
Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) report that since 1933 every state had received permanent projects from "Roosevelt's Tree Army." Some of the specific accomplishments of the Corps during its existence included 3,470 fire towers erected, 97,000 miles of fire roads built, 4,235,000 man-days devoted to fighting fires, and more than three billion trees planted. Five hundred camps under control of the Soil Conservation Service, performed erosion control on more than 20 million acres. The CCC also made outstanding contributions in the development of recreational facilities in national, state, county and metropolitan parks.
After viewing extensive fires in Florida that resulted from years of fire exclusion, Lyle Watts, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service gave national forests permission on a case-by-case basis, to use prescribed fire for the reduction of unnaturally high fuel accumulations. This policy change gave tacit recognition to the wisdom of managing the landscape with fire as practiced during the previous several thousand years by Native Americans and the European settlers who replaced them.
AUGUST 9, 1944
First Poster of Smokey Bear
The first poster of Smokey Bear by Rudolph Wendelin was prepared. The poster depicted a bear pouring a bucket of water on a campfire. Smokey Bear soon became popular, and his image began appearing on other posters and cards.
Arcadia Fire Equipment Development Center
U.S. Forest Service established the Arcadia Fire Equipment Development Center. The center resulted from the consolidation of all Forest Service fire equipment problem-solving efforts into a "laboratory sufficient to serve the fire control requirements of the Western Regions."
RELATED ITEMS: USFS: Technology & Development
Bureau of Land Management
The Grazing Service was merged with the General Land Office to form the Bureau of Land Management within the Department of the Interior.
The Northern Rocky Mountain Station published results of experiments with the Army Air Force in aerial bombing of forest fires, and published the results of investigations of aerial seeding of burned over timberlands.
New Smokey Bear Slogan
"Remember, Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires" is used for the first time on a Smokey Bear poster.
Superintendent E.T. Scoyen of Sequoia, one of the most venerated NPS leaders and a man of considerable vision, supported the designation of the Kaweah Basin as a research area that would not be subjected to fire suppression. Scoyen asked to retain authority to intervene if fire there threatened other areas of the park.
REFERENCE ITEMS: E. Lowell Sumner, "The Kaweah Basin Research Reserve: An Untouched Area for the Future;" Regional Director to Director, February 6, 1950, Sequoia National Park, FR 1950, 1970-1976, Ma-U, Box 327, F317, Sequoia National Park Archives.
U.S. Forest Service Southeastern Forest Research Station Annual Report
US Forest Service Southeastern Forest Research Station Annual Report stated "Fire is now recognized as a valuable tool in the management of southern pines. It can be used for the control of brownspot disease in longleaf pine seedlings, as well as for hazard reduction, seedbed preparation, reducing hardwood competition, and for improving forage conditions and wildlife habitats. When properly used fire can serve all of these purposes with very little or no damage to the stand. However, there are cases where severe damage has resulted when prescribed fires burned with greater intensity than was intended. We still do not know nearly as much as we should about when to burn and how to burn.
Black Bear Cub
A 5 lb. black bear cub was found after a forest fire in the Capitan Mountains near Capitan, New Mexico. Named Smokey after the poster bear, the cub was later sent to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. to become the "living symbol" for fire prevention.
Smokey Bear Act
Public Law 82-359—This law gave control of the image of Smokey to the Secretary of Agriculture so that there would be no unlawful use of Smokey Bear's image. The Act provided for the use of collected royalties and fees for continued education on forest fire prevention.
First Drops of Water and Chemicals onto Wildfires
The first practical drops of water and chemicals onto wildfires began, and helicopters began to assist with firefighting in the 1950's.
Tall Timbers Research Station
Tall Timbers Research Station established in Florida. The mission of Tall Timbers Research Station is to foster exemplary land stewardship through research, conservation and education. Their primary research focus is the ecology of fire and natural resource management including bobwhite quail and other wildlife in the southeastern coastal plain.
RELATED ITEMS: Tall Timbers Executive Director's Report
APRIL 28, 1958
Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park ignites its first prescribed burn on Long Pine Key.
Fire Ecology Conferences
Tall Timbers Research Station begins Fire Ecology Conferences which provide a forum for scientists and land managers to air views and studies on the effects of fire on a wide variety of ecosystems around the U.S. and world.
Harold Biswell began using fire in Giant Sequoia restoration studies on 320 acres in Whittaker's Forest owned by the University of California near King's Canyon National Park.
San Dimas Equipment Development Center
U.S. Forest Service Arcadia Equipment Development Center moved into new facilities and changed its name to the San Dimas Equipment Development Center.
A-shaped Fire Shelter
U.S. Forest Service Missoula Equipment Development Center (MEDC) adapts A-shaped fire shelter using aluminum foil/glass laminate with a kraft paper barrier inner liner.
Moccasin Mesa Fire
Mesa Verde National Park A lightning caused fire, burned a total of 2,680 acres in Mesa Verde National Park and on Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Lands. The Park failed to recognize the potential for cultural resource damage from fire suppression activities. Fire suppression activities (primarily dozers) resulted in the destruction of numerous archeological sites. A post-fire review and investigation resulted in the establishment of a national policy to include cultural resource oversight in the management of wildland fires on all federal lands.
NOVEMBER 9, 1976
Smokey Bear Passes Away
Smokey Bear passed away and was returned to his hometown of Capitan, New Mexico and is buried at the Smokey Bear Historical Park.
JUNE 16, 1977
Bandelier National Monument
Bandelier National Monument Burned over 15,000 acres of lands administered by three federal agencies. The major portion of the burn was within Bandelier, burning over 10,000 acres and affecting numerous cultural sites containing artifacts dating back to the early 1100-1200's. This is the first known wildland fire event in which archeologists were used as cultural resource locators and many sites were saved as a result of this action.
Smokey Bear Postage Stamp
Rudolph Wendelin designed a twenty cent postage stamp depicting a bear cub clinging to a burnt tree with the famous Smokey Bear emblem as a background. This was the first and only time the U.S. Postal Service issued a postage stamp honoring an individual animal.
RELATED ITEMS: Smokey Bear
Technology and Development Program
U.S. Forest Service Equipment Development and Testing program was changed to the Technology and Development (T&D) Program. The T&D centers are located in San Dimas, CA and Missoula, MT.
1995 - 1996
Field testing of fire shelters to determine the actual fire environment to be expected in a fire entrapment.
Wildfire: Feel the Heat
Wildfire: Feel the Heat, a documentary film by the film division of Discovery Communications, Inc. was released. Its showing on large screen theaters offered viewers a close-up view of wildland firefighters in action. While much of the film's focus is the drama of firefighting, it also stresses the natural inevitability of wildland fire and the cost effectiveness of using fire to reduce fuels. A series of Teacher Lesson Plans was also developed for this film.
RELATED ITEMS: IMAX's Wildfire by Discovery Pictures
National Fire Plan
National Fire Plan adopted which increased funding and committed federal land management agencies to treat, by burning and thinning, 40 million acres of brush and dense forest during the first decade of the new century.
Healthy Forest Initiative
The Healthy Forest Initiative launched to expedite administrative procedures for hazardous-fuel reduction and ecosystem-restoration projects on Federal land.
DECEMBER 3, 2003
Healthy Forest Restoration Act
P.L. 108-148 President Bush signs the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, designed to reduce the risk of wild fires by thinning dense undergrowth and brush in forested areas.
AUGUST 1, 2004
Smokey Bear's 60th Anniversary
Mark Trail comic strip recognizes Smokey Bear's 60th anniversary. Smokey's message included: