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Forest Fire Control, c. 1920

Forest Fire Control
New York State Archives, NYSA_14297-87_57L376FFC
Document Description
Men trying to control a forest fire by cutting down a smoldering bush, circa 1920.
What are these men doing?
Where are they?
Why is there smoke?
Do we have people in our community that fight fires?
What do they look like compared to these fire fighters?
How do forest fires start?
How do we stop them?
How common are forest fires?
If forest fires destroy many acres of forests, why would firefighters cut down near trees? Doesn’t that just add to the destruction or does it help? How?
Historical Challenges
Research the origins of Smokey the Bear.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: Between April 20 and June 8, 1903 600,000 acres burned. If each day the same number of acres burned, how many were burned each day? How many square miles is that?
Science: What are some natural starters of forest fires? Are these fires ever good for the environment? What is a controlled burn? How does it help the soil for agriculture?
English Language Arts: Write a letter to a nearby park or the state Forest Service requesting information on forest fire prevention.
Lauber, Patricia. Summer of Fire. Orchard Books, August 1991. ISBN: 0531085430
George, Jean Craighead. Fire Storm. HarperCollins Publishers, August 2003. ISBN: 0060002638
Salten, Felix. Bambi: A Life in the Woods. Aladdin Paperbacks, October 1982. ISBN: 067166607X

Historical Context
The Forest Ranger Service was established in 1885 to protect New York State’s forests. The Service still plays a vital role in environmental conservation today. New York has about 22 million acres of forested land to protect. When a forest fire breaks out, the forest rangers coordinate and supervise the firefighters who come to extinguish the fire. In addition to firefighters and forest rangers, volunteers from local communities also help fight the fires.

In the early twentieth century, forest fires ravaged eastern New York. In 1903, a forest fire started near Lake Placid in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks. Powerful gusts of wind that blew through those high elevations spread the fire quickly, until it was out of control. From April 20th to June 8th of 1903, 600,000 acres of land were burned. People were forced to evacuate their homes, animals that were trapped in the forest died, and fish died in streams and rivers from the intense heat and ashes.

That same year, 643 other forest fires burned 464,000 acres of land in the Adirondacks and the Catskills, and caused around $700,000 worth of damages. In the year 2000, the Department of Environmental Conservation reported only 594 acres burned thanks to conservation and awareness efforts by the forest rangers.

Essential Question
How do human settlement patterns impact the environment?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and explain why this process was necessary.