SMOKEY THE BEAR ISN'T letting careless campers off with a stern warning anymore. The U.S. Forest Service is cracking down by sending very large bills to anyone who sets a national forest ablaze. With camping season coming up--and hordes of eager outdoor types planning trips now--the rangers want to avoid more of the fires that have devastated woodlands in recent years.
Rangers sent out nearly 200 invoices to individuals and companies responsible for fires in a four-state area of the West last year. They slapped the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad with a $450,000 tab to cover the cost of fighting a southern Colorado conflagration started by sparks flying from its vintage coal-burning steam locomotive.
Then there's the man who tried to get rid of campsite toilet paper by burning it, causing a fire that laid waste to 15,000 acres in Idaho's Payette National Forest. He received a bill for more than $3 million. The rangers later dropped the fine, however, since the fellow had little money.