Smokey Bear stopped by Highlands School on Wednesday to chat with some pretty psyched first graders about how they can help prevent wildfires.
Smokey was accompanied by Nantahala National Forest Service Firefighters Adam Henry and Tyson Stager, and several Mountain Garden Club members.
MGC members were there because the Club helped split the cost of a new Smokey Bear suit for the Nantahala National FS. The suit is trademarked and costs approx. $3,000.
MGC member Chris Boltz said the FS’ previous suit was threadbare and needed to be replaced so Smokey can continue spreading awareness about wildfire prevention.
“It’s important the kids know what not to play with, how to help their parents put out a campfire, and how to respect fire,” said Botlz. “These guys from the Forest Service do a wonderful job and we’re happy to help out.”
Assistant Engine Captain Stager spoke to students in Stephanie Mason’s first-grade class and gave them several precautionary measures to prevent wildfires.
Tips include never touching lighters or matches, explaining that these objects are not toys, telling an adult if you find some, and setting up and escape plan with your parents in your home.
“This is one of the best ages to talk to students at,” said Stager. “They’re starting to read more and really take it all in. They’re incredibly receptive at this age.”
Engine Captain Henry said it’s good to let kids know what the Forest Service does.
“We’re trying to educate them about wildfires and what our jobs consist of,” said Henry. “We’re one of those agencies that are like ghosts, you don’t see us until something happens.”
Students in Mason’s class said they heard the message loud and clear.
“I liked that Smokey was with fireman and he had a shovel so he can dig fires out,” said 1st-grader Jackson Fairchild. “If I see matches, I wouldn’t knock them over because that could start a fire. I would leave them alone and tell an adult.”
1st-grader Brynn Mason said her favorite part about Smokey’s visit was getting to take a picture with him.
“Smokey told us all about fires and we learned things to stop wildfires,” said Mason. “And I know you can’t mess with matches.”
1st-grader Jack Sherwood said he was able to give Smokey a hug after he learned about wildfires.
“Wildfires can burn really fast,” said Sherwood. “If I saw matches, I would run to my house and tell my mom and dad.”