Smokey Bear turns 73! The story of the fire prevention icon

Only you... can wish Smokey Bear a very happy 73rd birthday!

The fire safety mascot for the nation's parks and forests was born 73 years ago - back on August 9, 1944. 

National parks from all over the country wished the furry advocate well via social media - many taking the time to show their affection for the popular mascot.

Even Colorado Parks and Wildlife joined in the well-wishing, tweeting this with the hashtag #OnlyYou, a reference to Smokey's common refrain reminding people who can stop forest fires:

 

 

They weren't the only local agency to wish the ursine fire advocate well: 

 

 

 

 

While the bear may have been getting well wishes from across the country, he continued to advocate making sure your campfires weren't left behind from his own Twitter account Wednesday:

 

 

An icon is born

Every child in America becomes familiar with Smokey pretty early on: fire safety is something we can all remember from our elementary school days, but back in 1944 - at least prior to August 9 - there wasn't a very good kid-friendly advocate.

Enter the Smokey Bear Wildlife Prevention campaign. The idea was sparked back around the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during WWII. Japanese submarines fired shells near Santa Barbara, California, hitting an oil field near the Los Padres National Forest.

A fear quickly grew of incendiary shells shot by the enemy hitting the forests of the Pacific Coast - and that the attacks might bring about massive wildlands fires.

During WWII, many slogans were tried out - especially those tying fire prevention to the war effort. Smokey's website lists some such slogans as "Forest Fires Aid the Enemy" and "Our Carelessness, Their Secret Weapon."

After Bambi came out in 1942, the U.S. Forest Service used the images of those animals on fire prevention posters - to widespread positive reception.

The only problem? They only had the characters licensed for a year, so they'd need to find their own adorable cartoon mascot.

IMAGES | Check out all of the images talked about in this article on Smokey's site here

Enter Smokey. He was approved on August 9, 1944, but the first poster of him wasn't delivered until October 10. It was drawn by artist Albert Staehle. It was a simple poster, showing Smokey pouring a bucket of water on a burning campfire - with the bear only wearing a ranger hat, blue jeans and boots (his iconic look!). 

His popularity grew, and by 1952, an Act of Congress removed him from the public domain and gave his rights directly to the Secretary of Agriculture. The money raised by royalties of his image go to wildfire prevention education.

An orphan bear saved during wildfires

There was a real Smokey the Bear.

Back in 1950, a wildfire began to rage in the Capitan Mounts of New Mexico. Forest rangers, local firefighting crews from both Texas and New Mexico, and the state's Game Department battled the blaze.

A group of firefighters got a report of a lone bear cub wandering near the fire line. Thirty firefighters near the cub were caught in the blaze - and, get this - survived by lying face down on a rockslide for over an hour.

The bear cub didn't fare so well: it climbed up a tree that was caught in the fire and was badly burned.

Its mother never found it and the orphaned cub was nicknamed 'Little Smokey.' 

News about the bear quickly spread throughout the U.S. It was famous. The state's game department wrote the U.S. Forest Service and offered up the bear as a gift so long as it would be used as a fire prevention tool. Soon, it was at the National Zoo at Washington, D.C.

He lived at the bear until 1976 as a national celebrity. He received so many letters he got his own ZIP code!

Learn more about the famous icon at his website!

One last thing

We've already seen our fair share of wildfires so far this year. A wildfire near Breckenridge almost forced the entire town to evacuate. Other fires have burned thousands of acres and had crews battling for weeks and weeks. And that's just in Colorado.

The cause of the Breckenridge fire was determined to be a campfire left still hot. A very good rule of thumb: if you can't touch the spot where the fire burned, don't leave it.

To learn more about campfire safety, head to this link at Smokey's site. Do it as a gift to the icon - it's not every day you turn 73!

© 2017 KUSA-TV


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment