Local forestry crew to celebrate Smokey Bear’s 75th birthday, risk lives each year battling wildfires

When it comes to protecting Osceola County, the St. Cloud Forestry Station has a fire prevention program and educates adults and children throughout the county.

One of the world’s most recognized characters is celebrating his 75th birthday this month – Smokey Bear. He coined the iconic phrase “Remember… Only YOU can prevent forest fires” back in 1944 and it has become the longest-running public service advertising campaign in U.S. history.

Osceola County will be honoring Smokey in September at Osceola Heritage Park. Smokey Bear will be there Sept. 27 and 28 for the Florida Ranch Rodeo Finals. Tickets are $10.

Smokey wasn’t only a picture of a bear, but a real live cub that was named Smokey after being orphaned in 1950. A wildfire had spread through the Capitan Mountains in New Mexico and the cub was burned on its paws and hind legs. The cub soon made his way to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and was the living symbol of Smokey  Bear.

When it comes to protecting Osceola County, the St. Cloud Forestry Station has a fire prevention program and educates adults and children throughout the county.

“Ninety percent of wildfires are caused by humans,” said Michael Facente, forest area supervisor for Osceola County, adding that the dry season begins in May. “We protect the lives and property of the people of Osceola.”

Facente has a crew of nine throughout the county who risk their lives to fight wildfires each year.

“Most of them were raised right here in Osceola County and know the woods like the back of their hands,” he said.

Osceola County has suppressed 143 wildfires over the last five years.

“(Our crew) jumps in front of the fire with bulldozers and plows and puts a secure line around it. My guys are the heroes and I am proud of them,” he said. A few men also go out west to help fight those raging fires each year.

 “We really love our job. It takes a special person to jump in front of a fire,” he said.

Facente’s crew has gone through intense training learning how to use hand tools to tractor defense operations. They go through basic fire control and first responder training as well with continuous training throughout the year.

There are several things homeowners can do to be “Fire Wise” – a program through the National Fire Protection Association. Facente said that includes being aware of the type of landscaping around your property and keeping a minimum of 30 feet between the house and woods. Also, keep gutters clean and never leave any fires unattended.

Facente said they have a great relationship with the county and surrounding cities. When there is a fire, the county is called to assess it and if they don’t have the proper resources then the call goes out to the forestry service.

If you see a fire, call 911, or you can also call the forestry station at 407-888-8760.