The hillside in front of the Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center is burned during a prescribed burn on Saturday, March 23, 2013.
For more on programs at Indiana Dunes State Park, call the nature center at 926-1390, or go to www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/2980.htm.
Updated: May 3, 2013 6:07AM
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
And there was both on a recent afternoon outside the nature center at Indiana Dunes State Park, as a large group of onlookers watched a prescribed burn.
Interpretive naturalist Brad Bumgardner set the fire, which burned leaves and downed twigs, after giving a presentation inside on the benefits of prescribed burns.
“Smokey misspoke,” he said of the venerable hat-wearing bear, known these days for telling people, “Only you can prevent wildfires.”
Smokey’s original message, “Only you can prevent forest fires,” was born out of World War II, when firefighting staff was stretched thin because so many men were fighting the war.
The bear was real, a cub caught in a tree in New Mexico during a fire. Smokey, as the bear was dubbed, lived out the rest of its life in a zoo.
And the bear’s message changed over time because fires benefit habitats by releasing nutrients back into the ground to accelerate plant growth, and getting rid of invasive plant species, Bumgardner said.
Some trees, such as the jack pine, which is found in the park, need fires to partially open their cones. Water fully opens the seedpods so more trees will grow.
Ana Chambers, 12, of South Bend, dressed up in protective fire gear treated with the chemical Nomex. Dodging Bumgardner’s lit matches, she correctly explained why the shirt she wore was yellow.
“So I can be seen in the smoke,” she said.
Outside, she and other kids helped Bumgardner, wetting areas around lampposts and tamping down still-smoldering sections from the burn.
He told the crowd that the area by the nature center often gets swirling winds because it’s on a high dune, and he periodically shouted, “Fire tornado!” as funnels of smoke and ash lifted up from the ground.
Alissi Jundi, 9, of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, wore a metal water pack and helped with the effort.
“We were driving through and wanted to see these dunes, and she became a firefighter,” said her dad, Mike.