Michelle Erdie is the Sawtooth National Forest North Zone Fire Prevention & Education Specialist
Smokey Bear turns 64 on Aug. 9. Celebrate Smokey's birthday at Redfish Lake amphitheater this Saturday. A special party will begin at 1 p.m.
The history of Smokey Bear is an interesting one that dates back to World War II. In the spring of 1942, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a Japanese submarine surfaced near the coast of Southern California firing shells that exploded near the Los Padres National Forest. These shells brought fear of raging forest fires. Able-bodied men were already engaged in the war and communities had to fight their own fires. Fire prevention in the forests became a national focus. The Forest Service organized the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Campaign with the help of the Wartime Advertising Council.
Walt Disney allowed the Forest Service to borrow "Bambi" on a poster for the fire prevention campaign. The "Bambi" poster was a huge success and proved that using an animal as a fire prevention symbol would work. However, "Bambi" was on loan from Walt Disney studios for only one year. The Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Campaign had to decide on a different animal for its campaign. On August 9, 1944, the first poster of Smokey Bear was introduced. The poster was of a bear pouring a bucket of water on a campfire.
A few years later in 1950, a fire swept through the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico. As men worked to contain the fire, a bear cub was discovered in the top of a charred tree. His paws and hind legs were badly burned. The cub was flown to Santa Fe where he was treated. News about the little bear spread swiftly throughout New Mexico. Soon the United Press and Associated Press picked up the story and broadcast it nationwide. The bear was presented to the Forest Service by the state game warden with the understanding that the small bear would be dedicated to a publicity program of fire prevention and conservation. The bear was sent to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and became a living symbol of Smokey Bear.
This and other information on the history of Smokey Bear can be found at www.smokeybear.com.