Smokey Bear is still fighting fires at age 69

Yesterday I heard a Smokey Bear ad on the radio. I remember him from when I was a kid growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, but come to find out he’s much older than that! According to the non-profit Ad Council, Smokey Bear is actually the longest-running public service campaign in U.S. history.

Smokey was created in August 1944 (during World War II) to educate Americans about the dangers of forest fires. Since most able-bodied men were serving in the armed forces at that time, none could be spared to fight forest fires. Plus, the government worried that fires could damage the forests that provided timber for the war effort.

The goal and theme of the Smokey Bear campaign was amended in 2001, from “Only you can prevent forest fires” to “Only you can prevent wildfires.” This serves to differentiate between natural forest fire ecology and intentional or accidental wildfires, and reminds us that other areas (such as grasslands) are also in danger of burning.

Although wildfires are more common in the summer and fall during periods of drought and high winds, they can occur anytime fallen branches, leaves, and other material dry out and become highly flammable, including the winter and spring. As of today, firefighters are battling a 500-acre fire in Big Sur, CA where an estimated 15 homes between the fire and the ocean have been destroyed so far.

To learn more about Smokey Bear, visit his website at, where you will find lots of educational materials including a complete language arts and science curriculum for grades 6-8, as well as information about wildfire science, the history of Smokey Bear, an interactive Kid’s Page, and additional resources. You can even view all of the ads from the 1940s to the 2010s.

Did You Know…? Home fires are more prevalent in winter than in any other season. Click here for educational info and free resources:

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