Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn and State Fire Commissioner Bruce Trego announced more than 130 wildfire fighting grants totaling nearly $620,000 to assist volunteer fire companies throughout the state. The new funding was announced at the gathering at Pine Grove Furnace State Park Thursday, marking Smokey Bear’s historic impact on forest fire prevention.

“Across the state, a total of $617,809 will benefit volunteers serving rural areas and communities where forest and brush fires are common,” Dunn said. “To appreciate the value of well-equipped and highly trained wildfire fighters, one only has to look outside Pennsylvania to the horrific fires that sometimes plague other states.

“So, this is a fun day -- and a very serious day -- as some of our coworkers and neighbors could well be called upon again to battle wildfires in Pennsylvania and far beyond our state borders. Fittingly, that combination of fun and seriousness always has been the embodiment of what Smokey has preached for 75 years. This is the perfect occasion to announce new funding help our volunteer fire companies.”

“Smokey has been a friend and ally to firefighters throughout the nation, and an icon to park-goers young and old,” State Fire Commissioner Bruce Trego said. “Though the increased threat of wildfires is relatively new, Smokey’s message of responsibility and self-awareness has proven to be timeless. Prevention will always be the most effective tool we have at our disposal to fight wildfires.”

Although progress has been made, wildfires remain one of the most critical environmental issues affecting the U.S. Many Americans believe that lightning starts most wildfires. In fact, on average, nearly nine out of 10 wildfires nationwide today are caused by people.

“Too often in our spring wildfire season, volunteer fire companies are kept jumping from one wildfire to the next,” said Pennsylvania State Forester Ellen Shultzabarger. “They need all the help they can get, and I am delighted to announce DCNR will be again providing funding to 132 companies that need it most.”

Grant recipients

The following volunteer fire companies in Cumberland and Franklin counties have received grants from the funding:

Cumberland Valley Hose Co., Shippensburg, $1,900

Penn Township Volunteer Fire Co., Newville, $9,035

Pleasant Hall Volunteer Fire Co., Pleasant Hall, $2,988.

The iconic wildfire prevention spokesperson, Smokey Bear, has been at the center of the longest running -- and one of the most successful -- public service advertising campaigns in U.S. history. His actual “birthday” was Friday, as he first began issuing his famous reminder, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires,” back on Aug. 9, 1944, when the USDA Forest Service and the National Ad Council agreed a fictional bear named Smokey would be the symbol for their joint effort promoting forest fire prevention.

Over the past seven and a half decades, the campaign has received more than $1.5 billion in donated time and space from media companies. Awareness levels have also remained high -- with 96 percent of the U.S. adult population recognizing Smokey Bear; and 70 percent being able to recall Smokey's tagline without any prompting.

Also, the average number of acres burned annually in wildfires has decreased from 22 million in 1944 to an average of 6.7 million today.

For more information on Pennsylvania's wildfire programs, visit the DCNR website at: https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/Pages/default.aspx.

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