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Flandrau's Camp WildFire entertains, instructs children in fire prevention

By Kylee Dawson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, July 14, 2004
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KEVIN B. KLAUS/Arizona Summer Wildcat
Camp Director Jill Rubio teaches a group of 8-12 year olds about the dangers of forest fires, and what to do if they should see one yesterday at Flandrau Science Center during Camp WildFires. Camp WildFires teaches the kids about which fires are good, and that they should practice fire safety at all times.

As the Mt. Graham wildfires continue to burn, several children in Tucson will be learning about wildfire safety at the Flandrau Science Center on the UA campus this month.

Through the learning program Camp WildFire, children between the ages of eight and 12 will learn about the history of wildfires in Tucson and the role humans have in preventing them.

"I learned what kind of fire is safe and fire that's bad," said Yesenia Vidal, nine. Yesenia enjoys learning about how plant life is affected by fire but looks forward to learning about how wildfires affect animals because, "they're special," she said. "They're cute too."

"The camp teaches about the causes of the Aspen fire, and the fires burning on Mt. Graham today, as well as about the after-effects of the fire," said Debra Colodner, associate director at the Flandrau Science Center.

Colodner said she hopes Camp WildFire will help the children understand how and why the forests in Arizona are vulnerable to wildfires.

"We want them to practice fire safety at all times, and understand that managing forests to minimize huge, destructive fires in the future, while preserving houses and other human structures, is a very difficult balancing act that scientists are still trying to understand," she said.

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Initially inspired by last year's Aspen fire on Mt. Lemmon, Camp WildFire "was the brainchild of Camp Director Jill Rubio of the Water Resources Research Center and Jim Washburne of the Hydrology Department, both at the University of Arizona," according to Colodner.

On a field trip to Mt. Lemmon, the children will be able to see some of the effects the fires had on the ecosystem. During a visit to the Mt. Lemmon Fire Station, firefighters and UA scientists will discuss why wildfires occur and how the environment recovers once the flames have been extinguished, Colodner said.

"They'll also learn about the importance of fire to the ecology of forests in our region, how humans have changed the nature of our forests by suppressing fire," said Colodner.

"(They'll) learn about ideas for how we might manage forests better in the future, and very importantly, they learn about fire safety."

Camp Wildfire also offers various activities, including a visit to the UA Tree Ring Laboratory where the children will learn about Tucson's history of fires by examining "how tree rings are used to date the occurrence of past fires," said Colodner.

At the Tree Ring Laboratory, Nathaniel Rubin, eight, learned a lot including, "basically everything about science you can find on a tree's rings," he said.

"We've been playing a lot of cool games and we've been learning about a lot of awesome things and we've been going to museums and walking all over the place," he said. "I really like this camp."

Colodner said the children also get to observe how humans have changed forest ecosystems in Arizona at the Center for Creative Photography where they will view historical and recent photographs of forests.

There, "campers will do a lab where they get to burn model forests made of matchsticks, to see the effects of tree spacing, hill slope and other factors on forest fires," Colodner said.

"In another lab, they will look at the effects of fire on flooding by making a model watershed with and without vegetation. They will also use computer programs to learn more about the underlying causes and effects of fire, fire safety and fire management."

Melissa Pettorsson, nine, enjoyed playing a game in which the children had to pretend to be trees and enjoys being at Camp WildFire.

"I like it because almost everyday we've been going to the science museum and we've been learning a lot of stuff and doing fun activities," Melissa said. "We've been doing a lot of art too."

As the education director for a National Science Foundation (NSF) Science and Technology Center, "one of the things I am charged with is improving the hydrologic literacy of school aged kids," said Colodner.

Sponsored by SAHRA (Sustainability of Semi Arid Hydrology and Riparian Areas), Camp Wildfire is a NSF funded program at the University of Arizona.

"Last summer we had a camp tied into the summer monsoon, also with Flandrau, which was partially disrupted by the Aspen fire," she said.

"We felt that a follow-up camp looking, in part, at the hydrologic impacts of these devastating fires would take advantage of a teachable moment for these middle-school kids."

The first week of Camp WildFire lasted July 6-9 and was for children aged 11 and 12, and the final two weeks are for children aged eight to 10. However, "if people of any age are interested in future sessions, we'd be eager to hear from them and offer more sessions in the future," said Colodner.

The second week of Camp WildFire is full and began on Monday and will last until Friday. The final session of Camp WildFire will run from July 19-23 for ages eight to 10.

All camps begin at the Flandrau Science Center and last from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The cost is $185 per child, and $175 for Friends of Flandrau members and UA CatCard holders.

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