From press reports
Hundreds of people of all ages were given lessons in fire safety with
the help of Smokey the Bear in Winston County over the last few months.
The Winston County Extension Service in conjunction with the U.S.
Forest Service and funding from the Firewise Program supported by the
Winston County Board of Supervisors have presented a fire safety
program to schools in daycares in the area.
The Extension Service has used Smokey to help deliver a message of
fire prevention and education on safety. The children are entertained
by Smokey while receiving a serious message.
March is Fire Safety Month and the Extension service will continue to
use Smokey to spread the message of fire safety.
The story of Smokey
One spring day in 1950 in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico, an
operator in one of the fire towers to the north of the Capitans
spotted smoke and called the location into the nearest ranger
station. The first crew discovered a major fire being swept along the
ground between the trees, driven by a strong wind. Word spread
rapidly and more crews reported to help.
Forest Rangers, army soldiers, Native American crews, men from the
New Mexico State Game Department, and civilian volunteers worked
together to gain control of the raging fire. As soon as they
contained the fire to one spot, the wind would push it across the
lines. During one of the lulls in firefighting, a report of a lonely
bear cub who had been seen wandering near the fireline was reported.
The men left him alone because they thought the mother bear might
come for him.
About 30 firefighters, mainly soldiers but also a Capitan High School
student, were caught directly in the path of the fire storm, barely
escaping by laying face down on a rockslide for over an hour until
the fire had burned past them. In spite of the experience, the
firefighters were safe except for a few scorches and some burned
holes in their clothes.
Nearby, the little cub had been caught in the path of the same fire
and had not fared as well. He had taken refuge in a tree that was now
completely charred. His climb had saved his life but left him badly
burned on the paws and hind legs. The soldiers removed the little
bear cub from the burned tree, but they did not know what to do with
him. A rancher, who had been helping the firefighters, agreed to take
the cub home. A New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Ranger heard
about the cub when he returned to the fire camp and drove to the
rancher’s home to get the bear. The cub needed veterinary aid and
was flown in a small plane to Santa Fe where the burns were treated
The news about the little bear spread swiftly throughout New Mexico.
Soon the United Press and Associated Press picked up the story and
broadcast it nationwide. Many people wrote or called to inquire about
the little bear’s progress. The State Game Warden wrote an official
letter to the Chief of the Forest Service, presenting the cub to the
agency with the understanding that the small bear would be dedicated
to a publicity program of fire prevention and conservation. The go-
ahead was given to send the bear to Washington, DC, where he found a
home at the National Zoo, becoming the living symbol of Smokey Bear.
“Wildfire” is the term applied to any unwanted, unplanned,
damaging fire burning in forest, shrub or grass and is one of the
most powerful natural forces known to people.
While sometimes caused by lightning, nine out of ten wildfires are
Although most people have no intention of setting in motion the
forces which could burn hundreds of homes, millions of acres of
forest and affecting thousands of lives, each year we learn of
devastating wildfires caused by careless behavior.
Facts on Fires:
In 2011, there were 10,249 wildfires caused by lightning, but 63,877
wildfires caused by human error (as reported to the National
Interagency Fire Center).
In 2011, more than 8.7 million acres burned due to wildfires in the
U.S. More than 5.4 million acres burned due to human-caused wildfires.
Common ways a person could unintentionally start a wildfire
• unattended debris burning
• equipment fires such as from lawnmowers, ATVs, power equipment
• unattended campfires
• carelessly discarding fireplace or BBQ ashes.
The forest service and Extension office ask everyone to be careful
and use fire safety when in or near forest lands.