Helene Woodbine, Shutterstock

Happy birthday, Smokey! Advising Americans to prevent wildfires for 75 years

By Jen Riess, KSL.com | Posted - Aug 10th, 2019 @ 7:05pm

SALT LAKE CITY — The average American black bear lives to be about 20 years old, according to National Geographic. But Smokey Bear is not your average bear. Smokey turned 75 on Friday, making him the longest-running ad campaign.

On August 9, 1944, the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service and the Ad Council hired artist Albert Staehle to paint the first poster of Smokey Bear to advocate wildfire prevention. The first poster said "Smokey says- care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires."

In 1947, Smokey was given his catchphrase "only you can prevent forest fires," which was later updated to say "wildfires" in 2001.

Six years after the original poster, an orphan bear cub was rescued from New Mexico’s Lincoln National Forest after a forest fire and was later named Smokey. The cub's paws and legs were badly burned. Unable to return to the wild, he was flown to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, where he lived as an ambassador for wildfire prevention and wildlife conservation for 26 years.

Smokey Bear is still active in the fight against wildfire and has kept up with the times pretty well. He now has an Instagram, Twitter and website. Celebrities like Betty White, Stephen Cobert and others were featured in Smokey's newest TV spot "because after 75 years of 'Only you can prevent wildfires,' turns out there's much more to say."

"I guess Billy was wrong, we did start the fire," said "Smokey Col-Bear."

The Smokey Bear ad campaign has brought awareness to common ways humans start wildfires, like burning yard waste, dumping used barbeque coal, parking vehicles in dry grass and more.

Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest celebrated Smokey's big birthday on Saturday at the Ogden Farmer's Market. U.S. Forest Service Intermountain Region, Ogden Ranger District Weber Basin Job Corp students and employees took the opportunity to educate people on wildfire prevention.

Jen Riess

KSL Weather Forecast