Saturday, July 7, 2012


Right now there are a bunch of nasty forest fires happening in Colorado and other states out west.  I told Mom that I could smell the smoke from these fires, but she says she doesn't believe me, even though she knows that dogs have really good noses.  So okay, maybe I exaggerated a little bit, but I think there are lots of dogs and cats and even people who really can smell the smoke.  They probably live closer to the fires, though.

Anyway, there's this bear named Smokey, and his whole job is to teach people about putting out their campfires and not throwing cigarettes out their car window or doing anything else that might start a forest fire.  Smokey is what you call the mascot of the United States Forest Service, and he is very famous.  In fact, 95% of adults and 77% of children know who he is.  You might have heard him called Smokey the Bear, but this is not his correct name.  Smokey does not have "the" as a middle name.  He is just Smokey Bear.

Well, you may be wondering how Smokey got his start, and I will tell you.  Back in 1944, during World War II, the Forest Service was worried that the Japanese might try to start fires in the Northwest U.S. as a way of attacking our country.  If a whole bunch of fires got started, this could be a problem because lots of the men who would normally fight the fires were busy being soldiers overseas.  So the government wanted ordinary people to be on the lookout for wildfires and put them out as soon as they got started.  Or better yet, people should keep the fires from starting at all.

A Fire Balloon
The Japanese really did try to get some fires started because they thought this would be a fine way to fight the Americans.  In 1942, they tried to set the forests of the Oregon coast on fire by dropping incendiary bombs.  Later on, they launched a bunch of fire balloons into the jet stream, hoping the bombs would float over the ocean and land in the U.S.  Between 1944 and 1945, something like 9,000 fire balloons got sent off from Japan, but only about 900 of them actually got here.  Sadly, in May of 1945, a teacher and five children in Oregon found one of these bombs, and while they were checking it out, it exploded and killed them.  But nobody else got killed by the fire bombs, and the few fires that started were put out right away.

In August of 1942, Walt Disney's movie Bambi came out.  As you may remember, this movie has a very scary forest fire in it.  Mr. Disney let the Bambi character be used in public service campaigns for a year, but after that, the government needed to get themselves a new symbol.

Since Bambi had been very popular in the fire-prevention campaign, the Forest Service decided they should have another animal, and they picked a bear.  The bear's name came from "Smokey" Joe Martin, who was a NYC Fire Department hero.  Smokey's first poster was designed by Albert Staehle, and the message was "Smokey says -- Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!"  In 1947, the slogan was changed to "Remember ... only YOU can prevent forest fires."  Then in 2001, "forest fires" got changed to "wildfires" because not all fires are in forests.

So that's how Smokey the fictional bear was invented.  But then in 1950, there was a big fire in New Mexico that was called the Capitan Gap Fire.  And some firefighters there rescued a little bear cub who had climbed up a tree to try to get away from the fire.  The cub got burned in several places, including on his feet, so he was named Hotfoot Teddy.  But later somebody thought he should be called Smokey, so he could be the real Smokey Bear.

After Smokey was all healed up, he got to ride in a Piper Cub airplane to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.  He lived there for 26 years, and he was always very popular with the visitors at the zoo.  He got so much mail that the postal service gave him his very own zip code.  Smokey ate bluefish and trout every day, and he also really liked peanut butter sandwiches.

In 1961, Smokey got a girl bear to live with, and her name was Goldie Bear.  The zookeepers hoped that these two bears would make some little baby Smokey Bears, but they never did.  So in 1971, the pair "adopted" an orphan bear cub, who was named Smokey Bear II.

The first Smokey Bear died in 1976, and his obituary was in lots of newspapers.  It was even on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.  Smokey was buried in Capitan, New Mexico, at Smokey Bear Historical Park.  There is a plaque on his grave that says, "This is the resting place of the first living Smokey Bear...the living symbol of wildfire prevention and wildlife conservation."

Little Smokey II lived until 1990, and after that, there were no more live Smokey Bears.  But of course the cartoon character is still around.  This Smokey has been in books, comic strips, on radio shows, and in coloring books.  He has been made into a toy and lots of other collectible things.  All the royalties that Smokey earns help pay for teaching people about preventing forest fires.

A bunch of people in Colorado had their houses burn down, which is not a nice thing to happen.  The weather is very hot and dry in lots of places, so that makes it easier for fires to start.  Which means that Smokey Bear really has his work cut out for him this year!


  1. For several days it smelled like a really big campfire here. I wanted to go see if they were having a BBQ, since that's what people do with a campfire, but mom said we couldn't do that and we should stay out of the way. I told her that was silly since I was never in anyone's way. Mom laughed at me like I made a funny joke.

    Anyway, some days the air was really smokey, but mom says we were never in danger of having to get in the car and go somewhere.

    Zest! superstar in training
    in smokey colorado

    1. Dear Zest!
      I am very glad that you did not have to get in your car and run away from the fire. Also I am glad your house didn't burn up. Thank you for telling us all about what the smoke smelled like. The smell of a BBQ is very nice because it makes me want to eat hamburgers or hot dogs. I wouldn't want all the animals in the forest to get BBQ'd in the fire, though!
      Your friend, Piper

  2. Wow, I used to NEVER EVER get those smokey bear commercials and sometimes when there's nothing to do, I turn the TV and the ads with Smokey Bear pop up and I think he had a cigarette in his mouth- I always thought it was to stop people from smoking so they don't get Lung cancer like mesothelioma. Then again, my interpretation was pretty close 'cuz wildfire smoke actually can cause lung cancer.Anyways, enough rambling, the point is your post truly helped me to understand why the heck smokey bear started in the first place. Also was the real smokey bear or Goldie bear sterile? I mean since they couldnt have little smokey bears and all...?


    1. Dear Fluffy,
      I'm glad you understand Smokey better, now that you have read my post. I don't know why Smokey and Goldie didn't make any baby Smokeys. That part wasn't explained in the stuff I read. Sometimes animals that are in the zoo just don't get "in the mood" to make babies. But maybe one of them was sterile. Who knows?
      Your friend, Piper