Smokey Bear has taught millions of Americans just like you about their role in preventing wildfires. He’s been a helping educate children and adults about the danger of forest fires since 1944. Seventy-five years later Smokey is celebrating a milestone birthday - he’ll be 75 years young!
The folks at the McCracken County Public Library (McLib) are throwing Smokey a birthday party. A very special visit will be made by Smokey Bear, who will provide plenty of high fives and hugs! All children will receive a free gift bag full of information about fire safety and Smokey Bear goodies. The event will be from 11 am – 12 pm on Tuesday, April 2.
Forest Rangers from the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois will be on hand to answer questions and present a program about fire prevention, and forest safety. They have an exciting and engaging presentation on fire safety, focusing on what to do if a fire occurs and the impacts of a wildfire on a forest.
Shawnee National Forest educators will discuss “good fires” that help to regenerate and rejuvenate forests, and “bad fires” that destroy property and lives. They will also talk about what to do if you see a fire.
The presentation will feature a wildland firefighter who will explain the gear used to fight a wildfire. This is going to be a really interesting and fun party! For more information about the event, visit mclib.net.
The 411 on Smokey!
One spring day in 1950, in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico, an operator in one of the fire towers spotted smoke and called the location in to the nearest ranger station. The first crew discovered a major wildfire sweeping along the ground between the trees, driven by a strong wind. Word spread rapidly, and more crews reported to help. Forest rangers, local crews from New Mexico and Texas, and the New Mexico State Game Department set out to gain control of the raging wildfire.
As the crew battled to contain the blaze, they received a report of a lone bear cub seen wandering near the fire line. They hoped that the mother bear would return for him. Soon, about 30 of the firefighters were caught directly in the path of the firestorm. They survived by lying face down on a rockslide for over an hour as the fire burned past them.
Nearby, the little cub had not fared as well. He took refuge in a tree that became completely charred, and although he escaped with his life, his paws and hind legs were badly burned.
The crew removed the cub from the tree, and a rancher among the crew agreed to take him home. A New Mexico Department of Game and Fish ranger heard about the cub when he returned to the fire camp. He drove to the rancher’s home to help get the cub on a plane to Santa Fe, where his burns were treated and bandaged.
News about the little bear spread swiftly throughout New Mexico. Soon, the United Press and Associated Press broadcast his story nationwide, and many people wrote and called, asking about the cub’s recovery.
The state game warden wrote to the chief of the Forest Service, offering to present the cub to the agency as long as the cub would be dedicated to a conservation and wildfire prevention publicity program. The cub was soon on his way to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., becoming the living symbol of Smokey Bear.
Smokey received numerous gifts of honey and so many letters he had to have his own zip code. He remained at the zoo until his death in 1976, when he was returned to his home to be buried at the Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan, New Mexico, where he continues to be a wildfire prevention legend.
In 1952, Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins wrote the popular anthem that would launch a continuous debate about Smokey’s name. To maintain the rhythm of the song, they added “the” between “Smokey” and “Bear.” Due to the song’s popularity, Smokey Bear has been called “Smokey the Bear” by many adoring fans, but, in actuality, his name never changed. He’s still Smokey Bear.
For more information about Smokey, visit smokeybear.com.