For years, the stern, but approachable, Smokey Bear wearing a ranger hat, jeans and boots, has taught generations of Americans about fire safety and prevention. In fact, the “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires” campaign is the longest-running public service campaign in U.S. history.
The New Smokey Bear #SmokeyBear75
This August marks Smokey Bear’s 75th anniversary and to celebrate, a new campaign was launched transforming him into an animated emoji. Celebrities, such as Betty White and Al Roker, are speaking through his animated character in an effort to reach younger generations and face public concerns of wildfires and global climate change.
In 2018 alone, 89% of wildfires were caused by humans damaging over 2.8 million acres of land, a testament to the fact that Smokey’s legacy still has an important role to play now—and in the years to come.
How It Began
The U.S. Forest Service started the campaign in 1944, in an effort to educate the public about the dangers of forest fires. The Smokey Bear mascot was added to the campaign in 1950 after a real bear was discovered in a tree by firefighters who were battling a blaze in the Lincoln National Forest.
Once the 17,000-acre fire was under control, firefighters rescued the lone bear who had incurred some burns from the charred tree. The cub was flown to Santé Fe for veterinary aid, and the endearing story of the cub soon spread throughout the country. Once the cub recovered, it was sent to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. where it became known as Smokey Bear, the new face of the campaign.
Smokey Bear Historical Park
In honor of Smokey Bear’s legacy, a historical park was opened in Capitan, New Mexico in 1979. The park’s exhibits feature forest health, wildfires, and wildfire prevention.
Just this year, the New Mexico Wildland Fallen Firefighter Memorial was unveiled, honoring more than thirty wildland firefighters across the state who lost their lives in the line of duty. The statue features a wildland firefighter kneeling next to the boots of a fallen firefighter.