You couldn’t miss the caravan of yellow school buses.

Hundreds of elementary and middle school students recently converged on Camp Edison near Shaver Lake to learn about the science of fire as part of “Science Days,” an annual event hosted by Southern California Edison (SCE) and coordinated by SCE’s Forest Management Team.

“Every year for 18 years, the kids have gotten excited about Science Days,” said Richard Bagley, SCE manager, Forestry/Campground at Camp Edison. “It’s an opportunity for them to get out of the classroom and get hands-on lessons about nature and science in an outdoor setting. For some, it’s their first visit to the forest and Camp Edison. Many have been to previous Science Days and some visited before with their families. In fact, we currently have two employees that had come to Science Days as students.”

Science Days was held at the end of the school year to teach students and educators from seven different local elementary schools about nature and science. The SCE Forestry staff, along with several agencies and interest groups, set up stops along a trail where the students are taught about a different natural science topic each year. Teachers are informed of the topic and teach it as part of their classroom curriculum during the school year.

This year’s theme was fire ecology and the role of fire in forest health. An important message explaining the difference between a “good fire” and a “bad fire” was also included.

“As part of SCE’s commitment to support the environment, this year we felt it was important to raise students’ and teachers’ awareness about the important role of natural fire in forest ecosystems,” said Bagley. “We also taught them how modern wildfires do not burn in the same way as natural fires, and are often destructive, and dangerous, instead of healthy for the forest.”

No question Science Days helps bring the lessons to life.

Throughout the day, students visited learning stations set up along a trail at Camp Edison and heard educational presentations on a range of forest-specific topics. Students listened as Southern Sierra CZO staff, a partner with SCE in local K-12 educational programs, explained how forest density and thinning affect water use and change fire behavior in forests.

Youngsters saw a Red Tailed Hawk up close and learned about a Peregrine Falcon. Both birds and other birds of prey native to the Shaver Lake area, including Bald and Golden eagles, play an important part in the ecosystem. According to Bagley, natural fire provides feed sources for the prey that these birds need to thrive.  

At another station, all eyes were on an actively burning fire, called a prescribed burn, demonstrated for educational purposes. It was active with flames and smoke to help teach students how professional fire fighters use prescribed fires to reproduce the positive effects of natural fire. At the station, students were also taught the importance of “good fire” for ecosystems and wildlife.

Cal Fire and U.S. Forest Service firefighters were also on hand to teach students about “bad fire” and firefighting. The Highway 168 Fire Safe Council used a diorama of a mountain community to teach youngsters about fire prevention, hazard reductions around homes, and living with fire in the wildlands.

A few lucky students even joined members of the Pine Ridge Volunteer Fire Department and manned water hoses to get a feel for the power behind pressurized fire hoses.  

“Students are so excited to get out of the classroom to learn, and this hands-on learning environmentally really helps the lessons take hold,” said Bagley. “Even as schools have cut back on funding for field trips, they have always managed to find the funding to bus students to Science Days. This is a huge testament to the value and effectiveness of this program.”