This ran in The Paper of Dwight, IL on 10/16/16
By Myke Feinman
Managing Editor of THE PAPER
With assistance by Captain Dusty Harmony
While covering National Fire prevention week, I was able to shake hands with Smokey Bear (there is no “the” in his real name), the famous mascot of the National Forest Service. He took a moment to stop by the Dwight Fire Department, Oct. 9.
Captain Dusty Harmony was with me, and later looked up the legend of Smokey online as follows:
Smokey Bear was born on August 9, 1944, when the USDA Forest Service and the Ad Council agreed that a fictional bear named Smokey would be their symbol for forest fire prevention.
Artist Albert Staehle was asked to paint the first poster of Smokey Bear. It showed Smokey pouring a bucket of water on a campfire and saying “Care will prevent 9 out of 10 fires.”
Smokey Bear soon became very popular, and his image appeared on a lot of forest fire prevention materials. In 1947 his slogan became the familiar “Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires!”, which was later updated to be “Only YOU Can Prevent Wildfires!”
Then in the spring of 1950, in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico, a young bear cub found himself caught in a burning forest. He climbed a tree to survive, but he was still badly burned.
The firefighters who retrieved him were so moved by his bravery, they named him Smokey.
News about this real bear named Smokey spread across the nation, and he was soon given a new home at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
As the living symbol of Smokey Bear, he played an important role in spreading messages of wildfire prevention and forest conservation.
Smokey died in 1976 and was returned to Capitan, New Mexico, where he is buried at the State Historical Park, now called Smokey Bear Historical Park.
Smokey is kind of my personal hero, too. As a small child, I had an illustrated story book about the “real” bear found in the forest fire. It’s nice to meet your heroes in person.
Thanks for reading.