May is Wildfire Awareness Month and it is possible that no person has been more aware of Pennsylvania Wildfires as George Wirt. Born in McVeytown, PA in 1880, George would go on to attend the Biltmore Forest School, the first forestry school in America. In 1901 he was hired by Joseph Rothrock to be Pennsylvania’s first professional forester in the newly created Department of Forestry.
The next year Rothrock and Wirt set out to establish Pennsylvania’s own school of forestry at Mont Alto. George served as the first Director of the school from 1902 to 1910 when he took on the position of Chief Forest Inspector.
As the Chief Forest Inspector the threat of Forest Fires loomed large. As a response to this threat he drafted legislation, which when it passed in 1915 created the position of Chief Forest Fire Warden. George naturally was appointed to this position. From 1915 until his retirement in 1946 George worked to establish and maintain a network of Forest Fire Wardens and to develop effective forest fire prevention and fighting techniques.
At the end of his professional career in 1946 he wrote, “Lessons in Forest Protection”. He had put in 45 years service to PA’s forests to learn those lessons. George Wirt passed away in 1961. A PA state Hisotrical Marker dedicated to him can be found on the Mont Alto Campus.