New Smokey Bear sign puts fire danger messages in lights

Contact: Kathleen Lavey, 517-930-4218
Agency: Natural Resources

July 16, 2021

A digital sign featuring Smokey Bear and an electronic screen stating the day's fire danger as Gone are the days when Michigan Department of Natural Resources fire staff in Escanaba had to run out and manually flip the fire danger sign from "high" to "very high" or from "moderate" to "low" as conditions changed.

The fire danger status on a flashy new electronic sign can be changed from a computer or a smartphone, and the lighted digital format brings the message across loud and clear.

"It's a good visual reminder for the community and the public," said Jay Osterberg, fire supervisor for the DNR's Escanaba Management Unit.

The Escanaba sign is the latest one to be converted to the electronic format over the past several years. Others, including in St. Ignace, Grayling, Ironwood and several more locations across the state also have been digitized.

The Escanaba sign's $37,000 cost was paid with joint grants from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Forest Service's Wildfire Risk Reduction program and the Michigan Interagency Wildfire Protection Association, which includes the DNR, BIA and USFS.

"All agencies are coordinating to get the fire safety message out there and try to combat wildfires," said Will Wiggins, BIA fire prevention officer. The Escanaba area is home to the Hannahville Indian Community and includes casinos and reservation lands.

"Getting out the fire danger message actually benefits everybody," Wiggins said. "It's best if we all have a unified message."

Fire danger is rated at five levels: low, moderate, high, very high and extreme. Until recent rains, fire danger ratings were perched in the higher levels for weeks around much of the state.

Maintaining consistent messaging around fire danger is also important, since state and federal campgrounds have been packed during 2020 and 2021.

"There are many people who are coming up to recreate, people who are not from the area and don't understand the fuel types and how quickly something can get out of control here," said Eric Rebitzke, fire management officer for the Hiawatha and Ottawa national forests in the Upper Peninsula.

The fire prevention officers recommend checking on fire danger before building a campfire, working with power equipment or riding ORVs off-road. Always get a permit before burning yard debris. In northern Michigan, they're available at; elsewhere in the state, check with local government or fire authorities.

Meanwhile, save the date for the Smokey Bear hot air balloon, which will be visiting Escanaba during the U.P. State Fair Aug. 19-21 at the DNR Pocket Park.

Learn more about fire safety and get daily fire danger ratings.

Learn more about Smokey Bear's legend and history.

Watch a campfire safety video featuring Smokey Bear.

Note to editors: An accompanying photo is available below for download. Caption information follows.

  • Smokey sign success: Wildland firefighters show off the new, electronic Smokey Bear fire danger sign in Escanaba. The sign was paid for and put up through a cooperative effort. Firefighters are (left to right) Paul Rogers of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Eric Ribitzke of the U.S. Forest Service, the DNR's Jay Osterberg and Will Wiggins of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.