Smokey Bear

Smokey’s message of “Only YOU can prevent wildfires” refers to unwanted, human-caused wildfires.

Wildfire Prevention History

Smokey Bear is perhaps the most successful fire prevention education icon in the United States. He is promoted primarily to address accidental human-caused wildfires. The need for Smokey Bear’s messages is as relevant today as it was in 1945 when the idea was first put forth.

Smokey Bear’s message must not be interpreted as “all fire is bad.” Naturally-caused wildfires and prescribed fires are some of today’s modern ecological management practices. A need exists to help our society distinguish between wanted and unwanted wildland fires based on safety and resource management objectives. With the proper interpretation, Smokey Bear’s messages can help clarify the distinctions between desirable and undesirable fires.

Smokey's Story

Orphan Bear

One spring day in 1950 in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico, an operator in one of the fire towers to the north of the Capitans spotted smoke and called the location into the nearest ranger station. The first crew discovered a major fire being swept along the ground between the trees, driven by a strong wind. Word spread rapidly and more crews reported to help. Forest Rangers, army soldiers, Native American crews, men from the New Mexico State Game Department, and civilian volunteers worked together to gain control of the raging fire. As soon as they contained the fire to one spot, the wind would push it across the lines. During one of the lulls in firefighting, a report of a lonely bear cub who had been seen wandering near the fireline was reported. The men left him alone because they thought the mother bear might come for him.

About 30 firefighters, mainly soldiers but also a Capitan High School student, Several soldiers were caught directly in the path of the fire storm, barely escaping by laying face down on a rockslide for over an hour until the fire had burned past them. In spite of the experience, the firefighters were safe except for a few scorches and some burned holes in their clothes.

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