California Burning: Episode 1—Our History With Fire

Sep 29, 2019

James Lewis and Smokey Bear strike a pose.
Credit James Lewis


Smokey Bear is arguably the most effective advertising campaign in American history—but Smokey’s message created a fear in many of us that’s led to a misunderstanding of fire.

In this first episode of California Burning, we explore what Smokey got wrong, and we learn how a series of unprecedented wildfires in the early twentieth-century started forest management policies that have contributed to the catastrophic wildfires we’re experiencing today.

"Fire is so graphic, and so visceral in a way, that people use it to animate some other agenda, so we end up not really talking about fire and how to deal with the fire problem." —Steven Pyne
From L-R, forest historians: Char Miller and Steven Pyne

Featuring Smokey Bear biographer James Lewis, and forest historians Steven Pyne and Char Miller.

Full transcripts of this episode, photos and links at All episodes also available on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.