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Smokey Bear still helping to prevent wildfires across North America

Smokey Bear isn’t quite the round, fuzzy bear you probably remember from the TV ads and posters of your childhood. He’s now a bit slimmer, a bit more hipster and very active on Twitter.

This loveable mascot is still getting his message across

This rotund grizzly has changed a lot since he arrived on the forest fire prevention scene in the early 1940's. (U.S Forest Service )

Smokey Bear isn't quite the round, fuzzy bear you probably remember from the T.V. ads and posters of your childhood. He's now a bit slimmer, a bit more hipster and very active on Twitter.

In light of the fifth anniversary of the Slave Lake fire and the Fort McMurray fire continuing to burn, how has the mascot of preventing fires, Smokey Bear, changed over the years?
A vintage Smokey the Bear poster from 1963. (U.S. Forest Service)

Smokey Bear has been telling us that only we can prevent forest fires — now, wildfires — since 1944. Gwen Beavans with the USDA Forest Service says Smokey has been very effective with his message.

"If you take his name off his hat and just show the outline and show his facial features, everybody knows that it's Smokey," said Beavans. "Eight out of 10 people still recognize him, no matter what sort of exact image we use."

Beavens explains that the forest service wants to raise awareness with 18 to 34 year olds, both as people who are outdoor enthusiasts and people who live in areas that they call "wildland-urban interface" — suburban homes in rural settings — where fires can spread more easily.

Beavans says the forest service is working to educate people about all the different ways wildfires start, and it's more than just worrying about unattended campfires and tossing cigarette butts from vehicles.

"We've had numerous fires that have started from chains that drag from a truck if you're carrying a boat or a trailer," Beavans said. "Also, there's the debris burning that's a huge problem and there's a lot of people that do that."

In fact, the number one cause of wildfires on private lands is from people burning garbage.

Beavans says there is still a more cuddly, fuzzy version of Smokey that's aimed at children and helping them learn to be safe outdoors.

But especially in the new videos, Smokey talks to young adults who are camping and driving around with dragging chains.

He's stern, but he's still friendly, reminding everyone "Only YOU can prevent wildfires."  

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