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Smokey Bear, puppet shows help kids learn fire safety rules

January 26, 2001|By KELLY RAUSCH, Staff Writer

Just two blocks from and several hours after the fire that leveled the Fox Theatre, preschool-age children learned important rules for fire safety from one of the most knowledgeable and recognizable bears around.

For one week every year, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and Imperial County Office of Education give the Smokey Bear fire safety program to 3-, 4- and 5-year-old children across Imperial Valley.

Thursday's performances at the El Centro Public Library, like others in the week, were geared toward young children. Consisting of two puppet shows, explanation of the five rules of match safety and a special appearance by Smokey Bear himself, children are informed and entertained, too.

Organizers say it's almost never too early to teach kids about fire prevention.

"We try to get the behavior started at a young age," said Roxanne Provaznik, fire prevention specialist and public information officer for the California Department of Forestry San Diego Ranger Unit and the Volunteers in Prevention.

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"Kids are curious. Two- or 3-year olds can manipulate lighters, even the child-safety ones," Provaznik said.

When a child starts a fire, that child usually ends up a victim, Provaznik said.

"We're teaching them fire is a tool, not a toy," she added.

Performing six shows a day, organizers spent Monday and Tuesday in Brawley and Calexico, respectively. Since Wednesday, the group has been performing at the El Centro Public Library.

The Smokey Bear program invited kindergartens, child care facilities and other organizations to bring kids to a 30-minute presentation.

Performers took kids on an imaginary walk through the forest, complete with skunks, chipmunks and rabbits. Against a Bambi-like background (and we all remember what happened to Bambi's mother …), a 6-foot tall Smokey Bear and other presenters taught kids the dangers of fire.

In its 18th year of coming to Imperial Valley, the program is reaching a second generation of Valleyites.

"This week we had a mother who had seen the program herself bring her child to watch," Provaznik said.

Delia Pimentel, a student at My Friends and Me child care, absorbed the fire prevention message Thursday.

When asked what she'd do if she found a book of matches, Delia, 3, replied: "Give to teacher."

Her response may not have been Shakespeare, but she seemed to get the message.

Staff Writer Kelly Rausch can be reached at 337-3442.

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