LEWISTOWN - Smokey the Bear, the official mascot of the Prevent Wildfire Campaign, celebrates his 70th birthday next month.
Starting on Aug. 9, 1944, the Prevent Wildfire campaign is the longest running public service advertising campaign in U.S. History. According to Dan LeCrone, forest fire specialist supervisor at Rothrock State Forest, the real-life smokey, living symbol of the campaign, was discovered during a New Mexico forest fire.
"In 1950 (firefighters) found a bear cub in New Mexico in a wildfire. When the firefighters saw him they took him back to a local rangers station, who then took him to a local veterinarian. He became a living symbol until 1976, when the bear passed away," he said.
Photo submitted by ROTHROCK?STATE?FOREST
A crowd of children and their parents are entertained by Smokey on July 5, in Greenwood Furnace State Park.
The campaign was started to promote wildfire safety and, although wildfires in Pennsylvania are not nearly as troublesome as they are out west, LeCrone said they are still a problem.
"We average 25 to 30 fires a year. We average 125 to 130 burned acres a year," he said.
LeCrone said wildfires in the eastern part of the United States are usually man made.
"It's just people burning debris, brush piles. That is our number one cause of fires. Second, for whatever reason, people light fires," he said.
The fire season in Pennsylvania usually lasts from the time the snow melts until the beginning of May.
The weather in the eastern part of the United States is what keeps wildfires from becoming the size of those that occur in the western part of the United States.
"Even though it gets dry, the leaves and the shade of the trees hold some of the moisture down there," he said.
LeCrone also offered tips people can use to prevent wildfires while out enjoying Mother Nature including:
Make sure campfires are out before leaving an area,
Place campfires in a safe place, away from the brush and tree branches, and circle them with rocks,
Have a shovel and bucket handy,
Make sure campfires are attended at all times.
A birthday celebration will be held for Smokey at 7 p.m., Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, at Raystown Lake. For more information about Smokey the Bear and wildfire safety visit www.smokeybear.com.