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'Only You Can Prevent Wildfires': Smokey Bear Celebrates 75th Birthday

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — For 75 years, Smokey Bear has been teaching Americans about their role in preventing wildfires in the country's longest-running public service advertising campaign.

According to the Smokey Bear website, the idea for the campaign came in 1942 after Japanese submarines surfaced near Santa Barbara and fired shells that exploded in an oil field near Los Padres National Forest. Growing fear over the possibility of a raging wildfire as a result of potential future bombings — and few trained firefighters on hand to fight them — the protection of national forests became a matter of national importance.

The wildfire prevention campaign officially began in 1942, but it would be two years before the iconic Smokey Bear would be unveiled. The first poster depicting Smokey Bear was released in 1944 and showed a human-like bear pouring a bucket of water over a campfire with the slogan, "Smokey says — Care will prevent 9 out of 10 woods fires!" In 1947, the slogan changed to the popular, "Remember — Only you can prevent forest fires."

In response to an outbreak of wildfires in natural areas other than forests, the slogan was changed in 2001 to "Only you can prevent wildfires."

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, more than 2.8 million acres of land are burned each year by people who start wildfires. On average, humans cause 61,375 fires each year. In 2018, 89% of wildfires — or 51,576 — were caused by humans. These wildfires burned more than 5.6 million acres of land.

To celebrate the enduring legacy of Smokey Bear, a few Southern California towns are throwing birthday parties in his honor.

At the Kern River Ranger District Office in Kernville, Smokey Bear will be on hand from noon to 2 p.m. Friday to celebrate the big day with games firetrucks and refreshments. At the Idyllwild Ranger Station in Idyllwild, Smokey Bear will be celebrating his birthday from noon to 3:30 p.m. Friday where kids and adults alike can sign a bear-sized birthday card. On Sunday, the Mountain History Museum in Arrowhead will host a birthday party for the iconic bear who will be on hand for cake and ice cream from noon to 3 p.m.

For those who can't make it to area parties, Smokey Bear posted the recipe for his favorite s'mores cake — without the fire — on Twitter. See the video below.

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