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Public Invited To Smokey Bears' Birthday Party At Hardin Ridge
Updated July 25, 2017 6:50 AM | Filed under: Event
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(HARDIN RIDGE) - Saturday, August 5, Hoosier National Forest officials are inviting the public to celebrate with them Smokey Bears' birthday at Hardin Ridge Recreation.

Smokey will turn 73 on August 9th. The party will begin at 2 p.m. There will be cake, and children will be able to make their own sail boats and then participate in a sail boat regatta.

Smokey may also be on hand to present Junior Forest Ranger awards to the kids who have completed their books.

Smokey is an American icon on par with Mickey Mouse and Batman. He's been in comic books, on milk cartons and in television ads. But he's only uttered six words in his life: "Only you can prevent wildfires."

Smokey Bear began his career in 1944 with the slogan, "Only you can prevent forest fires." But other than that, the changing times have done little to change this symbol of fire safety.

Smokey Bear is the face of the longest-running public service campaign in the U.S. Smokey was created in 1944 by the U.S. Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council in response to public fears that enemy shelling during World War II would cause forest fires in the West while all the firefighters were overseas.

Alamogordo High School students Tyler D. and Aaron H. created this video after a month of research and won first place honors at the 2013 Desert Light Student Film Festival.

"Forest fires are nothing new in this country," said Thomas Tidwell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture. "Even back in the 1930s and 1940s, we actually had more (forest fires) in the landscape than we did today."

A majority of wildfires are started by humans, Tidwell said. Nine out of 10 forest fires are started by people -- either by leaving a campfire lit, throwing away matches or even using machinery in arid areas.

Wildfires has greatly decreased since Smokey was first created. The loss of forest to wildfires has been reduced from 22 million acres in 1944 to about 6.7 million acres in 2014, Conlon said.

"That's a huge reduction," Conlon said. "We want to keep educating new generations."

Smokey's appeal was originally targeted toward children with his friendly teddy bear image and his appearance in comic strips, Conlon said. His popularity among kids grew so strong that he even got a flesh-and-blood mascot in the 1950s, when a bear cub was rescued from a wildfire in New Mexico and sent to live as Smokey at the National Zoo in D.C. By 1952, Smokey even had his own zip code to accommodate all his fan letters. Today, Smokey has his own website and social media presence on Facebook.

The Ad Council indicates that 96 percent of Americans today recognize Smokey and his message, Tidwell said.

Smokey's voice has changed over the years, and has been recorded mostly by various radio hosts. Most recently, he was voiced by actor Sam Elliott, who has made a living playing gruff cowboys with his characteristic deep Western drawl in movies like The Big Lebowski and Tombstone.

"(Smokey)'s definitely an outdoorsman, like all those western characters I've played all those years," Elliott said. "I think the greatest character in westerns is the outdoors themselves, and I think Smokey is right at home there."

Elliott, who has been voicing Smokey in several PSA's since 2008, had another personal connection to Smokey: He shares the same birthday. Elliott also had his home in Malibu, Calif., fall victim to a wildfire in 1978.

"It was a pretty horrific thing," Elliott said. "When that fire came in on us, all we could do was get out ... it looked like (someone) dropped a bomb on us. Just scorched earth."

Tidwell said that despite climate change, longer fire seasons and more people living near forests, the Smokey Bear campaign continues to find avenues to prevent wildfires.

"We can't stop lightning, but we can significantly reduce the number of human-caused fires," Tidwell said.

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