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Bruce Puphal: Smokey Bear and fire danger

As you drive around Nevada County, you will most likely see several figurines of Smokey Bear (also called Smokey the Bear) at various locations. Have you ever wondered just how Smokey came to be, or what information is used to determine the fire danger level that is posted on Smokey Bear signs during the year?

I would like to take some time to offer an explanation of these two questions.

First, Smokey Bear is an advertising mascot created to educate the U.S. public about the dangers of forest fires. An advertising campaign featuring Smokey was created in 1944 with the slogan, “Smokey Says — Care Will Prevent Nine Out of 10 Forest Fires.” Smokey Bear’s later slogan, “Remember … Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires,” was created in 1947 by the Ad Council. In April 2001, the message was updated to “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.” According to the Ad Council, Smokey Bear and his message are recognized in the U.S. by 95 percent of adults and 77 percent of children.



In 1952, songwriters Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins had a successful song named “Smokey the Bear.” The pair said “the” was added to Smokey’s name to keep the song’s rhythm. During the 1950s, that variant of the name became widespread both in popular speech and in print.

Please be assured that the level that is placed on our signs is correct and current based on information provided by the U.S. Forest Service from two of their websites.

The fictional character Smokey Bear, created by art critic Harold Rosenberg, is administered by three entities: the United States Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters, and the Ad Council. Smokey Bear’s name and image are protected by U.S. federal law (from Wikipedia).




For the second part of the explanation, when it comes to determining the fire danger level in any given area around the U.S., the U.S. Forest Service located in Billings, Montana, collects scientific data on a daily basis to make this determination. The daily analysis is posted on their website, USFS-WFAS (wildland fire assessment system) http://www.wfas.net. On this website, you can select any state. I only select California to collect information that I will need to post on our two Smokey Bear signs here in Lake Wildwood. The color indicators are Green (low), Light Green (moderate), Yellow (high), Orange (very high), Red (extreme). Nevada County is located just to the north and west of Lake Tahoe. Since I check this map every day, I have a very good idea of our fire danger level for our area.

Another mapping tool that the U.S. Forest Service uses is Google Earth-Wild Fire Assessment. This program allows you to zoom in on our state. You will begin to see small balloons of various colors. These colors mean the same as the ones used on the WFAS web site listed above. As you continue to zoom into California, Nevada County will appear. There should be three distinctive colored balloons within our county, numbers 041809, 041808, and 041806. These three balloons refer to different monitoring locations. Click on anyone of the three, and a dialog box will appear with specific information for that area. Under the category “Fire Danger,” you should see the prediction of what the fire danger level is for the day.

In closing, it has been brought to the attention of the Lake Wildwood Safety Committee that a few residents have had questions as to how a certain level of fire danger can be posted on the signs, when it may seem that the danger level should be perhaps higher than shown. Please be assured that the level that is placed on our signs is correct and current based on information provided by the U.S. Forest Service from two of their websites.

Bruce Puphal is a member of the Lake Wildwood Public Safety Committee.


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