As a youngster and a member of the Boy Scouts, I was always taught the importance of protecting our forests. I spent considerable time back then in the woods – hunting, fishing, camping — and learned early to treat the wooded areas with every consideration.
In the 1940s, we began seeing images of a black bear called Smokey who reminded us of our responsibilities toward our forests. Smokey promoted fire prevention and fire safety. He soon became the mascot of the U.S. Forest Service.
Smokey had a friendly face and you could not help but want to help him when he reminded us “only you can prevent forest fires.”
Right now, Smokey Bear is celebrating his 75th birthday as a public servant dedicated to protecting our forests. He first came to our attention in 1950, when he was rescued from a forest fire in New Mexico. His duties as a mascot for the U.S. Forest Service promoting conservation began about that same time. Smokey made his home at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. And, he died there in 1976.
During his tenure, he did a great deal to promote wild fire protection and fire prevention.
Smokey was widely known and his importance was protected by federal law. His catch phrase, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires,” remains relevant today.
Smokey made a positive contribution to our World War II victory. He reminded us that loss of our forests and forest life could be harmful to the nation in a major war. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese fired shells from a submarine to forests on the West Coast. With so many of our men in combat areas, the nation had few readily available firefighters. Smokey would remind us of the importance of fire prevention. He was the poster child seen pouring water on a forest fire.
Smokey Bear educated the public about picking safe camp sites, using care in digging fire pits, maintaining fires, and later extinguishing them. He told us not to use live material, to burn dry camp fire wood, to keep the fire manageable and to supervise children playing hear fires.
Smokey told us not to go off leaving fires unattended. He asked us to wait until our camp fires burn to ashes, to mix the ashes with water, soil and sand or dirt, and not go off leaving a smoldering fire site.
Smokey Bear left us with many words of wisdom, and we respect his 75 years as our mascot on fire safety