BEFORE ORGANIZED DETECTION the ‘public eye’ – random, unplanned detection – was the only form of fire protection.


Those first nomadic peoples, spread thinly across the continent, kept a keen eye on their environment, alert to the signs of fire, ready to move out of its path.

Centuries later incoming settlers, as they went about the business of clearing land and building homesteads, found they had to be aware of an approachiang fire. A spiral of smoke in the distance, or the smell of scorched air, might be the only clue. Yet these settlers, who had everything to lose, often didn't follow the most basic safety procedures when using fire. Runaway fires were rampant.

IT TOOK OVER 300 YEARS for the general public to assume personal responsibility for preventing, detecting, and reporting wildfire.

  • The early fire rangers enforced fire legislation, but more important, they educated the populace about fire prevention. Rangers nailed fire prevention posters to trees, posts, and buildings; issued fire permits; discussed safe burning practices with householders; gave talks to school children; and organized parades.
  • The media was, and is, a major player in fire prevention strategy. Hard-hitting radio, movie and television ads broadcast the fire prevention message. Phone numbers dedicated to reporting wildfire were widely publicized. And now provincial and territorial websites carry the fire prevention message.
  • In 1610 a Newfoundland law proclaiming ‘No Person shall set Fire to the Woods’, was one of the first steps in the process. Gradually, as new settlements were forced to cope with the devastation caused by wildfire, fire legislation was made tougher and more specific.

TODAY the general public, you and I, detect and report roughly 50% of all wildfires in Canada. Anyone who spots a fire – resident, tourist, camper, forestry worker, pilot, truck driver – is responsible for reporting it to the nearest fire agency. Check out two stories, 50 years apart, in which ordinary people took this responsibility one step further: Mum on Fire Alert and Canoe Trippers.

Hammering the message home through public education, reinforced by legislation, worked. Public attitudes changed profoundly.

Photo Credit:
Saskatchewan Environment Image Archives [Firestorm]
Online Exhibits