Three Forests Interpretive Association mourns the loss of longtime board member, Forest Service icon, and friend Harry McClellan who died September 27th. Born in Santa Barbara, California, October 9, 1940, Harry “Punky” McClellan moved to the small community of Ojai, California, adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest in 1955.
Punky’s work with the Forest Service began in 1959 on the Los Padres National Forest working on an engine and as a patrolman on the Ojai and San Marcos Ranger Districts. Later he transferred to the Sequoia National Forest Hume Lake Ranger District as the Fire Management Officer and then to the Sierra National Forest as the Assistant Forest Fire Management Officer. His career encompassed a wide range of local and national wildland fire management activities. He served in most technical fire positions from firefighter to top forest fire management. Punky McClellan was a national and international leader in wildfire prevention.
Punky worked on many national level fire management assignments including the Safety First Program in the early 1970’s which led to such things as minimum engine staffing, training and qualifications standards, firefighter safety equipment such as nomex and fire shelters. The project ultimately led to Congress assigning the Forest Service with the development of the Incident Command System (ICS) system for all California fire agencies and eventually to national implementation.
While on the Sierra Punky was funded and assigned a national office position to manage the National Fire Prevention Program. He developed and distributed program materials for the Wildfire Strikes Home Initiative, developed training and guidelines for Fire Prevention Planning, and probably most memorable was the development of high visibility fire prevention education programs with professional sports teams and celebrities. Radio and television public service announcements using the celebrities and athletes were produced and thousands of fire prevention education materials were developed and distributed. In 1987 he organized a National Smokey Bear Day Event at every Major League baseball stadium.
After retiring from the Forest Service in 1990 after 32 years, Punky continued with his passion for fire management through his company THE FIREHOUSE based in Clovis, California. Working with NFPA and local jurisdictions he developed an urban fire safety program and set of hero characters called the PREVENTOR Program and a wildland set of characters for the Fire Education Team Program managed by the Department of Interior. He managed the training and mobilization of National Interagency Fire Prevention Teams. Punky also authored several books including “REMEMBER ONLY YOU” – A History of Outdoor Forest Fire Prevention Advertising and “THE FRONT LINE” – A Look at Some of America’s Historic Firehouses. He was active internationally with work in Russia, Mexico and Canada.
Punky was honored as the recipient of the Gold, Silver, and Bronze Smokey Bear Awards (the Fire Prevention Oscars) for outstanding national public service in wildfire prevention and the Secretary of Agriculture’s Superior Service Award. He was truly an icon with the USFS, a man with utmost integrity and dedication to his work. Punky’s sense of humor and giving nature are truly irreplaceable.
Punky McClellan’s role in Three Forests Interpretive Association began in January of 2004. His talents in organization, management of meetings and knowledge of the needs of our government partner the US Forest Service were essential to the successes of the organization. His abilities to move projects along and get things done were legendary. Retired Director of Fire for the Forest Service in California, Kenton Clark, once commented “Do not ever give Punky McClellan a job to do that you don’t want to get done.”
Plans are underway to build a memorial statue and scholarship fund on Punky’s behalf. A Gofund Me account has been established in Punky’s honor, for further information on Punky’s legacy, write Riley McClellan at 2660 Alamos Avenue Clovis, CA 93611.