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Smokey Bear Turns 80

Celebrating 80 years of wildfire prevention in Texas

Retro graphic of Smokey Bear with his 80th birthday cake

Smokey Bear, the iconic symbol of wildfire prevention in the United States, is celebrating his 80th birthday in 2024, marking eight decades of reminding Americans about the importance of wildfire safety. Since his creation in 1944, Smokey Bear has been a key figure in educating the public about fire prevention, particularly in states like Texas where wildfires are a significant concern.

1944: Smokey’s first appearance on a Forest Fire Prevention campaign poster.

Texas has experienced significant fire seasons across all regions of the state. Once primarily a rural concern, wildfires are now a statewide threat that impact communities and have the potential to damage homes and other critical infrastructure.

Weldon Dent and Alex Bregenzer, Texas A&M Forest Service employees, work with fire departments to develop community preparedness strategies.

In Texas, fire prevention efforts are crucial to protect lives, property and natural resources. Smokey Bear’s message, “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires,” resonates strongly in the Lone Star State, where residents play a critical role in minimizing the risk of wildfires. Simple actions and personal responsibility, such as properly extinguishing debris burning fires, maintaining equipment and not parking in tall dry grass, can make a significant difference in preventing wildfires.

1957, Smokey Bear at a Boy Scout Jamboree.

Over the years, Texas has implemented various strategies to enhance wildfire prevention and preparedness. Texas A&M Forest Service, along with local fire departments and other agencies, have invested in public education and outreach programs to raise awareness about wildfire prevention. Smokey Bear has been a central figure in these efforts, appearing in advertisements, school programs and community events to remind Texans of the importance of fire safety.

James Cousins, Texas A&M Forest Service employee, talks to Huntsville elementary students about Smokey Bear and fire safety.

One of the most significant challenges is the state’s rapidly growing population. As more people move into wildland-urban interface areas, where urban areas continue to expand into the wildland, the risk of human-caused wildfires increases. Educating residents about wildfire risks and prevention measures is essential to reducing the number of fires started by human activities. Careless debris burning and equipment use are among the top causes of wildfire starts in Texas where more than 80% of all wildfires are human-caused.

1958, Mrs. Berdie Dominey from Huntington, Angelina County, demonstrates a cinder block trash burner.

As Smokey Bear celebrates his 80th birthday, his message remains as relevant as ever in Texas and across the country. By taking simple steps to prevent wildfires and being mindful of the impact of their actions on the environment, Texans can help ensure that future generations are able to enjoy the state’s natural beauty safely.