The Story of Smokey Bear

Smokey Bear’s “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires” campaign is the longest-running public service campaign in U.S. history. The stern, but approachable, bear wearing a ranger hat, jeans and boots has taught generations of Americans about fire safety and prevention over the years. But many people don’t know that there’s a real bear behind this furry campaign.

It all started in New Mexico in 1950. Firefighters were battling a blaze in the Lincoln National Forest when they noticed a bear cub wandering close to the fire with no sign of its mother nearby. As the fire spread, the bear cub took refuge in a tree. Once the 17,000-acre fire was under control, firefighters rescued the lone bear who had incurred some burns from the charred tree. The cub was flown to Sante Fe for veterinary aid, and the endearing story of the cub soon spread throughout the country. Once the cub recovered, it was sent to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. where it became known as Smokey Bear.

In 2010 alone, more than 4 million acres of land burned in the United States, a testament to the face that Smokey’s legacy still has an important role to play now—and in the years to come.

You can stay current with Smokey Bear on Facebook, Twitter and his website.

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