Happy 78th birthday Smokey Bear

TORRINGTON – Iconic Smokey Bear kicked off his 78th birthday bash in Torrington on Wednesday at the Telegram with Goshen County children and even got to learn how the printing press makes his favorite hometown newspaper.

U.S. Bureau of Land Management for Wyoming and Colorado Fire Mitigation Specialist and Media Relations Specialist Carmen Thomason read Smokey’s real-life story to children in attendance.

Although the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Ad Council thought up Smokey Bear and introduced him to Americans on Aug. 9, 1944, as a symbol to help promote fire prevention – the real Smokey Bear wouldn’t be found until a few more years later in the most unconventional way.

In the spring of 1950, inside the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico, a little bear cub who would become known as Smokey Bear, survived the most unimaginable fire by taking refuge in a tree and clinging tightly. Even though Smokey survived, he was badly wounded, dehydrated and in very poor shape – many firefighters feared he would not survive, but they took him back to the right animal doctors who were able to help get him nursed back to health.

In the book that Thomason read to the children about Smokey’s real life, it said, “the firefighters who retrieved him were so moved by his (Smokey’s) bravery, they named him Smokey.” By the time he had healed and made his way to his new home at the National Zoo in Washington D.C., the entire nation had embraced Smokey as the real Smokey Bear, and he became the living face of Smokey and fire prevention.

Some interesting facts Thomason read to the kids, of which they giggled about, included:

Smokey has his own airplane, named after him and looks like him;

He loves to drink Coke, specifically Coke and not Pepsi;

He has sat on the desk in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington D.C.

Smokey gets so much mail: the U.S. Postal Service gave him his own zip code.

Smokey died peacefully in 1976 and was returned to Capitan Mountains in New Mexico and buried in the State Historical Park, where visitors of all ages and generations can still visit today. There are no plans to replace the former living Smokey Bear, but his spirit continues to live on and inspires new generations to help prevent wildfires.

Smokey and Thomason discussed with the children in attendance ways they can help around the home in preventing fires, as well as ways they can help when on family vacations, such as making sure all campfires are completely out before walking away.

One of the children asked Smokey how many fires he has helped put out – Smokey did not know how many, but his friend Thomason said Smokey likes to help his friends stop and prevent all fires.

Telegram printing press manager Ward Anderson gave Smokey a birthday gift with a tour of the printing press and operations. Anderson even showed Smokey how his favorite hometown newspaper is made, beginning with stories written by reporters, editors and then making its way to specialized plates, before going onto the printing press with special inks. Later it goes out for delivery and eventually into Smokey’s paws in the mornings with his favorite cup of coffee.

Smokey is well on his way to becoming a journeyman apprentice if he ever retires from the wildfire fighting and prevention specialty.

Before leaving, Smokey handed out coloring books and swag to the children in attendance and left some extra for Goshen County kids who could not make it to the Telegram for his visit. He left one message for all Goshen County children:

“Only You Can Prevent Wildfires: young or old.”

To send a letter or card to Smokey, mail to: Smokey Bear, Washington, D.C., 20252, or drop by the Telegram and drop them off with reporter Marie and she can give them to Smokey when he is in Wyoming. If you would like your letter to Smokey published in the newspaper, please indicate that to the Telegram.

Happy 78th birthday Smokey Bear; Smokey Bear turns 78 on Aug. 9. 

According to Thomason, Smokey Bear remains the best resource for children in helping to mitigate wildfires; the best way is by not playing with matches or lighters; reporting when they see and/or smell smoke and/or fire; not playing with fireworks unsupervised; helping to drown out campfires; learning about types of fuels that lead to wildfire spreading – such as debris, grasses, trash, etc.; and travel safety such as no hanging chains.

For more information about fire prevention visit: smokeybear.com, fs.usda.gov or wsfd.wyo.gov.


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