What does Mr. T have to do with wildfires? The ranch used as the backdrop for the popular ’80s TV show “The A-Team” was destroyed in the recent Sand Fire near Los Angeles. The Sable Ranch also was used in the series “24” and the 1980 movie “Motel Hell.”
U.S. wildfire spending set two records last year: the most spent in a single year ($2.6 billion) and the most spent in a single week ($243 million).
Richard M. Nixon, who had recently finished his vice presidential term, was evacuated from the 1961 Bel Air Fire in Los Angeles. Life magazine published a photo of Nixon standing on the roof of his home spraying water with a garden hose. Actors Zsa Zsa Gabor and Burt Lancaster both lost homes in the blaze.
The first wildland firefighters were the U.S. Cavalry soldiers who were in command of Yellowstone National Park in 1886. Within days of arriving, they were battling wildfires on park grounds, making them the first paid wildland firefighting force.
The “Big Blowup” of 1910 burned 3 million acres and killed at least 85 people in Idaho, Montana and Washington. It began from as many as 1,700 separate fires that were whipped into a frenzy by hurricane-force winds. Among those fighting the fire was Edward Pulaski. He was credited with saving most of his 45-man crew by leading them into a mine shaft to escape passing flames. He is also credited with inventing the Pulaski, a common wildland firefighting tool that is a combination ax and hoe.
Smokey Bear wasn’t just a cartoon character. The original living symbol of Smokey Bear was a bear cub that survived a wildfire in 1950. Firefighters found him in the charred remains of a tree and initially named him Hotfoot Teddy. Smokey became so popular that the U.S. Postal Service gave him his own ZIP code.
Smoke columns from wildfires can generate their own weather systems, sometimes called pyrocumulus clouds. Wildfires can also spawn “firewhirls and firenadoes.” Smoke columns can collapse, causing fires to spread rapidly.
The series finale of “MASH” featured footage from an actual wildfire on 20th Century Fox Studios’ ranch. The smoldering structures shown in the episode actually burned in the fire. The wildfire was written into the finale.
The Great Chicago Fire was not the only fire to claim lives on Oct. 8, 1871. Peshtigo, Wisconsin, and the cities of Holland, Manistee and Port Huron in Michigan all burned in wildfires the same day. It is estimated that at least 1,200 were killed in Michigan and Wisconsin. Another 800 died in the Chicago fire.
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What Mr. T and Smokey Bear have in common: 10 facts about wildfires
Eric Sagara is a senior data reporter for Reveal. He joined Reveal following a news applications fellowship at ProPublica, where he worked on projects about pharmaceutical payments to doctors, deadly force in police agencies and the trail of guns in the United States. Prior to that, he was a reporter on The Newark Star-Ledger's data team. Sagara is originally from Arizona, where he reported on business, education, crime, wildfires and government. He is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.