Smokey Bear: Preventing Unwanted, Human-Caused Wildfires for 72 Years

By Emily Bazydlo

In recent weeks, 13 wildfires have burned more than 110,000 acres in the southeastern United States. Even with the winter solstice about two weeks away, Georgia and Tennessee are still battling large wildfires. Tragically, at least 14 people lost their lives in the Tennessee wildfires which are confirmed to have been human-caused. State foresters and their partners work to conserve, protect and enhance America’s forests through wildfire prevention education efforts.

Smokey Bear has been a part of the American scene for so many years, it is hard for most of us to remember when he first appeared. Dressed in a ranger's hat, belted blue jeans and carrying a shovel, Smokey has been the symbol of wildfire prevention since 1944.

Wildfires are any unwanted, unplanned fires that burn in forests and other wildlands, such as shrubs or grassy areas. Smokey Bear’s famous message is “only you can prevent wildfires.” This iconic expression educates Americans that individual actions are so important and powerful to prevent wildfires.

In an era of increasingly catastrophic fires, Smokey’s message is critical to protect human lives and their communities. Nearly nine out of 10 wildfires in the United States are caused by humans and could have been prevented. In 2015 alone, humans caused more than 58,000 wildfires on two million acres of land.

Smokey Bear knows that “only you” can learn best practices related to safe campfires, burning brush, and dumping hot ashes and coals. Far too many lives, properties and homes have been lost to mistakes that could have been avoided with the right wildfire prevention-knowledge.

Wildfire is not just a western issue, nor just a summer issue. As evidenced by the southeastern wildfires, it is always wildfire season somewhere in the United States. Smokey Bear’s message resonates with all audiences, year-round, to prevent unplanned wildfire and promote fire safety.

Smokey Bear’s message does not dispute the fact that fire is critical to many American ecosystems. Prescribed fires, also known as controlled burns, can help reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. Prescribed burns are the process in which forestry professionals apply fire under carefully selected weather conditions. This practice can restore and enrich ecosystems. When experts like state forestry agencies, the USDA Forest Service, and other partners in wildland fire use prescribed burns, they rely on sound science to drive their decisions.

To learn how you can work with Smokey Bear to do your part to prevent human-caused, unplanned wildfires, visit and be fire aware.

To learn more about wildfire threats near you contact your state forestry agency.

As Smokey Bear has known for more than 72 years, only you can prevent wildfires.

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