Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

March 25, 2013

Smokey Bear, Forest Service visit homeschool group to teach about fires, planting

Amy Brocato Pearson
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — Brodie Matthews had been looking forward to Friday all week.

It was the day that Hearts in Bloom, his Christian homeschool association, was getting a visit from the Texas Forest Service and their most popular and visible employee, Smokey Bear.

"Programs are my favorite thing," said Brodie, 9, who was quite vocal and peppered Texas Forest Service specialists Chris Adams, Scott Taylor and Jonathan Phillips with questions during their 45-minute presentation to the approximately 35 students and parents gathered at The People's Church on Friday.

Brodie clung to the side of the John Deere Fire Dozer that the specialists brought on the back of a trailer to show the students how the Texas Forest Service puts out forest fires.

"I love learning about science," he said. "I have a whole library of information in my room at home. Forestry is OK, but I really like genetics."

Genetics aside, Friday Brodie's focus was on how the Texas Forest Service puts out forest fires.

"We basically have to take away the available fuel to fight the fires," explained Adams, adding that one tool they use, along with creating a fire break, is a "slurry," a gelatinous mixture that looks like "snot" and stays on the ground more effectively than water. His  audience giggled at the explanation.

"Is fire a solid, liquid or gas," Brodie asked during the presentation, stumping the specialists, who recovered to explain the physics behind a fire.

"Sometimes we fight fire with fire," Taylor told the group, illustrating how Texas Forest Service specialists use fire to "eat up" fuel and stop fire in its tracks.

The students were able to look at laminated pictures of Texas forest fires and the planes and helicopters used to combat the blazes, such as the forest fires that ravaged East Texas and other parts of the state in 2011.

A highlight of the morning was meeting Smokey Bear, a.k.a. Phillips, who said he enjoyed his first time portraying the national mascot of the Forest Service.

The TFS also brought the group long leaf pine seedlings to bring home and plant, explaining how to carefully bury the plug without covering the delicate bud inside.

"These are the prettiest pine trees there are," Taylor said.

The Hearts in Bloom homeschool association has guest speakers on a regular basis, said Charla Frisinger, whose children participate in the program, adding the group takes even more field trips to visit different places.

"It's hands-on learning. You can't get that sitting at a desk all day long," she said.

Lois Guymen brings her five grandchildren to the group.

"I think the kids really enjoyed it today," she enthused. "It was really great."

As for the TFS specialists, speaking to groups is part of their regular duty.

"We do it several times a year," Adams said. "We also hold big Ag Days and an Arbor Day; those events can bring in up to 400 kids at a time."