USA — Smokey Bear and rangers from the Arkansas Forestry Commission paid a visit last week to third graders at Cedar Park Elementary School to promote their message of “only you can prevent forest fires.”
“We try to visit all of the area schools,” said ranger Chris Stowers. “We talk about fire safety tips and also give them the basics on how to prevent forest fires.”
The commission is airing a new round of TV, print, outdoor, Web and radio ads featuring Smokey Bear reminding Americans about the importance of wildfire prevention.
Stowers said nine out of 10 wildfires are started by humans. The biggest causes of wildfires are unattended campfires, burning trash on windy days, BBQ coals, and carelessly throwing cigarettes and other smoking materials away.
The students were shown a video featuring Smokey Bear who urged them not to play with matches in the forest. One match can burn down an entire forest and fires spread very quickly.
Smokey told the students that the forest is home to many animals that can die when their home is set on fire.
The Wildfire Prevention campaign with Smokey Bear is one of the longest and most successful campaigns in history. The character made its debut on August 9, 1944 on posters showing him wearing blue jeans and a ranger’s hat pouring a bucket of water on a campfire with the message “Smokey says — Care will prevent nine out of 10 forest fires.”
A real life Smokey Bear helped spread the message to generations of Americans who visited him at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The black bear cub was caught in a wildfire which burned 17,000 acres in the Capitan Mountains in New Mexico in the spring of 1950.
The cub had climbed a tree to escape the blaze, but his paws and legs had been burned. He was rescued by Ray Bell, a game warden, who took the cub home and cared for him. The cub’s story was picked up by the news service and he became an instant celebrity and flown to the zoo where he helped promote fire prevention.
Smokey Bear’s message about forest fire prevention has helped to significantly reduce the number of acres lost each year to forest fires.
“Over 95 percent of the population can finish the sentence when you ask them “only you,” Stowers said.
Smokey Bear and forest ranger Christ Stowers share some forest fire prevention tips with third grade students at Cedar Park Elementary School. (Democrat Photo/Mark Randall)
During the last ten years the number of acres burned annually has decreased from 22 million to 4 million acres.
For the first time, the campaign includes an intervention message urging young adults to practice fire safety habits.
Stowers reminded the children to stop, drop and roll if they ever catch on fire and to have a place to meet in the event their house is on fire.
“We give them basics about not only how to prevent forest fires, but how to prevent a fire in their home and what they should do in the event of a fire,” Stowers concluded.