Multiple studies have shown that visual aids are very useful in absorbing information, and while generations of Canadians are familiar with Smokey Bear (created by the U.S. Forest Service in 1944), there were several reasons for a changing of the guard. The most obvious difference is in appearance: the way Ember was drawn represents new approaches to animated characters and how they appeal to modern audiences of all ages.
Another factor is authenticity: we felt it was time for Canada to have its own voice regarding wildfire preparedness; everything about Ember was conceived, designed, and developed by Canadians for Canadians. Both of these considerations meant essential improvements in form and function alike, increasing FireSmart BC’s effectiveness at building understanding on how to protect lives and property from the threat of wildfire.
Perhaps most importantly, however, Ember articulates a much more sophisticated approach than the “Only YOU can prevent forest fires” mantra that was Smokey’s from 1947 until 2001 (when “forest fires” was changed to “wildfires”). That simple message and its invocation of individual responsibility were perfect for generating basic levels of awareness, but these days our knowledge of wildfire – how it spreads, the role it plays in nature, the heightened risks associated with the wildland-urban interface, etc. – is far more extensive. Decades of observation and study have taught us so much, not just about how to prevent wildfire, but also how to fight it, how to manage it with prescribed burning, as well as its cultural role within Indigenous communities. Not to mention how good habits and advance preparation are absolutely crucial to preserving lives and property.
On another level, FireSmart principles and practices place primary emphasis on cooperation – both within and between communities – as the cornerstone of wildfire mitigation and resiliency. Wildfire is inevitable, but if the right strategies are designed and implemented, fires can be managed in such a way as to limit their impacts in terms of damage, cost, and loss of life.
The Big Picture