Seventy years ago today, the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council settled on Smokey Bear as a mascot for their fire-prevention efforts. This is the longest running public service advertising campaign in U.S. history.
The actual American Black Bear cub rescued in 1950 from the Capitan Gap fire, Lincoln National Forest New Mexico, with burned paws was nursed back to health and lived 26 years in the National Zoo in Washington D.C.
The campaign’s original catch phrase was “Smokey Says – Care Will Prevent 9 out of 10 Forest Fires.” In 1947 it was changed to “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires.” Most recently, 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. The term “wildfire” applies to any unwanted, unplanned, uncontrolled outdoor fire. While sometimes caused by lightning, nine out of ten wildfires are human-caused.
The understanding of fire ecology has changed throughout Smokey’s 70 years from almost full suppression to an understanding that natural fires are necessary to remove the accumulation of fuels and return nutrients to the soil. With the increase in dry and hot weather along with changing weather patterns nature may take care of her own. People living in wildland areas should create defensible space and be as prepared as possible.
However, there is no reason for careless human caused fires. Follow Smokey Bear’s advice. Use caution and common sense before lighting any fire. Never leave any fire unattended. Make sure any fire created is properly and completely extinguished before moving on. Properly extinguish and discard of smoking materials. Be careful when operating equipment during periods of dry or hot weather. Speak up and step in if someone is in danger of starting a wildfire.
Only You Can Prevent Wildfires
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