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Tragic and Destructive North American Wildfires - 1950 to Present


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Capitan Gap Fire Disaster - Lincoln National Forest , New Mexico - May, 1950
Tragic and Destructive North American Wildfires - 1950 to Present
The Capitan Gap Fire Disaster was caused when a cook stove over heated and started casting sparks. It was actually the first of two fires that began on Thursday, May 4th, 1950 in Lincoln National Forest, in New Mexico in the Capitan mountain range. The fires eventually combined to torched 17,000 acres. A firestorm from the Capitan Gap Fire slopped over a firebreak, nearly killing a 24-man firefighting crew who used recently dug firebreaks and a recent landslide to bury themselves in the earth. They all survived the fire.

My reason for including this as a major North American wildfire disaster was not because of the actual destruction (which was substantial) as much as the symbol that developed out of the ashes and smoke of that fire - Smokey Bear. On May 9th in a moppin up action, a badly singned bear cub was found. This cub bear would change the face of forest fire prevention forever.

Found clinging to a charred tree and briefly called "Hotfoot Teddy", the tiny bear cub was brought back to fire camp by a group of soldiers/firefighters from Ft. Bliss, Texas. Veternarian Ed Smith and his wife Ruth Bell nursed the new wildfire prevention mascot back to health. Smokey was sent on to the National Zoo in Washington, DC to become a legend.

The Career of Smokey Bear

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