Smokey Bear celebrates his 70th birthday Saturday, Aug. 9, in Idyllwild.
“Our Wildfire Prevention campaign has helped children and adults throughout the country understand their role in preventing wildfires,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “For 70 years, Smokey Bear has empowered people to make a difference; his message of personal responsibility continues to be as critical and relevant now as ever. We look forward to celebrating many more birthdays of our beloved icon.”
Smokey will be joined by the Forest Service Volunteer Association, along with the U.S. Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council at the Forest Service’s Idyllwild Ranger Station from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.
Smokey Bear is America’s wildfire prevention icon. He has educated generations of Americans about their role in preventing human-caused wildfires. Smokey Bear was born on Aug. 9, 1944, when the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council agreed that a fictional bear named Smokey would be the symbol for their joint effort to promote forest fire prevention. The Smokey Bear Wildfire Prevention campaign is the longest-running public service advertising campaign in U.S. history.
Artist Albert Staehle was asked to paint the first poster of Smokey Bear. It depicted a bear pouring a bucket of water on a campfire and saying, “Care will prevent 9 out of 10 fires.” Smokey Bear soon became very popular as his image appeared on a variety of forest fire prevention materials. In 1947, his slogan became the familiar, “Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires!” In 2001, it was again modified to, “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires” in response to a massive outbreak of wildfires in natural areas other than forests.
In the spring of 1950, in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico, a young bear cub found himself caught in a burning forest. He took refuge in a tree, and while managing to stay alive was left badly burned. The firefighters who retrieved him were so moved by his bravery they named him Smokey.
News about this real bear named Smokey spread across the nation and he was soon given a new home at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The living symbol of Smokey Bear, he played an important role in spreading messages of wildfire prevention and forest conservation. Smokey died in 1976 and was returned to Capitan, New Mexico, where he is buried in the State Historical Park.