The Sequoia National Forest Headquarters was ready for a party Friday afternoon as children began to arrive to celebrate the 75th birthday of Smokey Bear.
The smell of frosting and white cake filled the room, and decorative balloons sporting the word “Happy Birthday Smokey” were taped to the walls.
Ten-year-old Bentley Wyatt was the first to walk through the door, anxious to meet Smokey Bear. He browsed through bear themed merchandise while he waited for Smokey to appear.
Following closely after Wyatt was 5-year-old Andy Withrow who smiled wide as he entered the building. His eyes went straight to the delicious cake on the table.
“Today is Smokey’s 75th birthday,” said Brenda Diaz, Battalion Chief for the Sequoia National Forest Western Divide. “So we are celebrating all year long with different events. We have the Apple Festival coming up, and he will be there celebrating his birthday.”
Diaz announced Smokey would be making an appearance soon, and as the big friendly brown bear walked through the door the faces of each child lit up. Smokey waved to the kids, and stood near his cake.
Wyatt was invited up to say Happy Birthday to Smokey and posed for a few pictures while Diaz quizzed him on Smokey Bear’s five fire safety rules. Wyatt provided all of the answers and was gifted with a goodie bag for his participation.
Withrow approached Smokey next and hungrily eyed the cake some more as Diaz asked him if he knew all of Smokey’s rules. With a little help, Withrow too answered all of the questions correctly and received his awesome goodie bag for attending Smokey’s birthday party.
Smokey has been a symbol for forest fire prevention for decades, and teaches children the importance of fire prevention and safety. He also teaches children what to do in case of fire emergencies, like having an exit route established in case a house fire breaks out. Smokey has promoted fire safety education to children across the valley, and plans to do the same thing for years to come.
Diaz explained Smokey Bear was especially important in informing the community about fire safety when the most recent drought devastated tree life across the forest, causing trees to dry out and become even more of a fire risk.
“We had seven years of drought so we do have to be careful when we’re camping,” said Diaz. “Smokey prevents forest fires and makes sure that campsites and campfires are out.”
Smokey Bear’s future is looking prosperous as he helps spread awareness of the tree deaths sweeping the forest due to bark beetles, posing a greater risk of dead trees falling and catching on fire from unsupervised camp sites and fires.
“It’s been 75 years that (Smokey) has been preventing forest fires, since he was a baby cub,” said Diaz. “His motto is continuing and he will continue for generations. We will always have Smokey Bear.”