As Fire Prevention Week approaches, we wanted to take a moment to salute America's favorite wildfire safety spokes
Though the upcoming Fire Prevention Week focuses largely on residential fires, Smokey Bear's message "Only You Can Prevent Wildfires" is an inspiration for us to remain fire safe wherever we may be.
Dressed in a Ranger's hat, belted blue jeans and carrying a shovel, he is the most popular and longest running public service campaign in history. To understand how Smokey Bear (there is no 'the' in his name) became associated with wildfire prevention, we must go back to World War II.
At War with Fire
On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor. The following spring, in 1942, a Japanese submarine surfaced near the coast of Southern California and fired a salvo of shells that exploded on an oil field near Santa Barbara, very close to the Los Padres National Forest north of Los Angeles.
With fear that wartime incendiary shells could set off raging forest fires, in addition to those already caused by people, protection of forests from uncontrolled fire became a matter of national importance, and a new idea was born. If people were urged to be more careful, perhaps fires could be prevented.
A variety of posters and slogans were subsequently created, encouraging people to prevent accidental fires and thereby help the War effort.
Bear or Bambi?
Walt Disney's motion picture, "Bambi", was produced in 1944 and Disney authorized the use of his creation for wildfire prevention. The Bambi poster was a success and proved that using an animal as a fire prevention symbol would work. Bambi could not be used in subsequent campaigns however, because it was on loan from Walt Disney Studios for only one year.
The Forest Service needed an animal for the wildfire prevention program. On August 9, 1944, the new fire prevention symbol was agreed upon by the Forest Service and the Wartime Council. Artist Albert Staehle was asked to paint the first poster of Smokey Bear. It showed a bear pouring a bucket of water on a campfire.
Deeply Beloved and Strongly Protected
Smokey Bear's name and evolving image are strictly protected by his very own U.S. Federal Law, the Smokey Bear Act, and he even has his own private zip code (20052) and website.
The endeavors of Smokey Bear are passionately administered on a full-time basis by three entities: the U.S. Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters, and the Ad Council.
The men and women of the Los Angeles Fire Department offer a respectful tip o' the helmet to all who have helped make Smokey Bear an enduring symbol of safety.
For more information on our friend Smokey Bear, please visit:
Submitted by Brian Humphrey, Spokesman
Los Angeles Fire Department