Everyone knows Smokey Bear, Woodsy Owl, and maybe even Ranger Rick Raccoon, but there are many other forest and forestry-related fictional characters that long ago fell by the wayside. Peeling Back the Bark‘s series on “Forgotten Characters from Forest History” continues with Part 5, in which we examine the Fire Wolf.
A blood-curdling howl echoes through the forest. The wind suddenly picks up, bringing with it a blanket of thickening smoke. The temperature begins to rise and a red glow shines ominously on the horizon. The howl grows closer, suddenly transforming into loud and unnerving laughter. It can only mean one thing: the Fire Wolf is on the loose.
The Fire Wolf was born at the end of World War II, during an era of rising concern about catastrophic wildfires throughout the western United States. With fire constantly threatening the American timber supply, forest industry groups began to fight back. Education quickly became an important weapon in the industry’s fight. During the 1940s, a deluge of fire prevention messages were dropped on the general public. Contributing to this effort was American Forest Products Industries (AFPI), a research and promotional arm of the lumber and wood products industries (AFPI would later be renamed the American Forest Institute before becoming part of the American Forest & Paper Association in 1992). In addition to their usual work promoting the industry, the folks at AFPI also began running numerous forest fire prevention campaigns during the 1940s. One of these advertising campaigns, first launched in 1945, featured a character known as the Fire Wolf.
Coming on the heels of AFPI’s popular “Woody” character that launched four years earlier, the Fire Wolf was designed to capture the attention of children and adults alike. In contrast with fellow fire prevention symbol Smokey Bear, who premiered a year earlier in 1944, the Fire Wolf was no friend of the forest. Dubbed “Forest Enemy No. 1,” he operated with a modus operandi similar to the Guberif. As presented in various print advertisements, the Fire Wolf—his body literally made of flames—stalked the forest, threatening innocent woodland animals and other wildlife. A crafty creature, he made fast friends with careless smokers and lazy campers. The Fire Wolf welcomed destruction by flame, taking an arsonist’s glee in watching the woods burn. Liked to play with matches? The Fire Wolf was your boy. This big bad wolf wouldn’t just blow your house down, he’d burn it to the ground. No wolf in sheep’s clothing, he’d sooner douse you in gasoline than pull wool over your eyes. Absolutely no one in the vicinity of a forest was safe from his wrath. As the ads declared, “Every creature in the woods is scared to death of the Fire Wolf.”
During his brief heyday in the late 1940s, the Fire Wolf appeared in advertisements throughout the U.S. and Canada (Fire Wolf was given a boost north of the border through the cooperation of the Shawinigan Industries of Canada). Even more so than other forgotten characters, though, his time in the spotlight was incredibly short-lived. Fire Wolf was never able to gain significant traction with the public—especially in the face of the growing popularity of other characters such as Smokey Bear and Woody. His existence only in print ads also limited his impact (as opposed to Woody who made public appearances on behalf of AFPI). Fittingly, the Fire Wolf’s lifespan was that of a match, just a fleeting flame across the national fire prevention scene. In the end, maybe it was better for the Fire Wolf to burn out quickly rather than slowly fading away. In remembrance of his brief but useful career, continue reading for a few selections from the AFPI records and scrapbooks featuring the Fire Wolf in his prime.