Smokey Bear Days!

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smokey bear days
Funds are being solicited for the erection of a life-size memorial in the Park to honor all brave fallen firefighters. Courtesy Photo.

Smokey Bear Days are here again

The concept of Smokey Bear (not Smokey the Bear) was first realized in 1944. The United States Forest Service believed a nationwide image was needed to help support a fire prevention campaign. Many possibilities were considered, but in the end it was decided a bear would best represent the fire determent program. The Forest Service and the Wartime Advertising Council named the bear, Smokey, after a respected New York Assistant Fire Chief.

On May 9, 1950, after the disastrous human caused Capitan Gap fire in the Capitan Mountains, a dreadfully burned, five-pound black bear was found clinging to a tree. Warden Ray Bell looked after the cub and named it “Smokey” after the nationwide icon for forest fire prevention. When it was recovering it was placed in the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

To commemorate the bear’s 60th birthday (from 1944), Smokey Bear Days was conceived in 2004 and has since become an annual two-day celebration held on the first Friday and Saturday in May (around the time the black bear cub was found).

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Attendees to the Smokey Bear Days event enjoy the festivities amid the scenic wonders of Capitan. Courtesy Photo.

“We spend two days celebrating Smokey’s birthday,” Park Ranger Linda Wallace explained. “Educators like the BLM, Forest Service, ENMU, New Mexico State Forestry, retired individuals and a volunteer fire department will be on hand to inform visitors to the Capitan area about the dangers of unwanted, human-caused wildfires.

“On Saturday, at 10 a.m., a parade will commence at the Capitan High School and move eastward on 380. From 11 a.m.-1p.m., the Firefighter’s Challenge will take place,” Wallace continued.

Additionally, there will be approximately 30 street vendors in attendance for both days, May 5 and May 6, along with numerous other enjoyments such as a pancake breakfast (Sat. 7a.m.); chainsaw carving competition (Sat. 9a.m.-all day); Smokey memorabilia and collectables for sale (Fri. 9a.m.-3p.m.); a bike safety course (Fri. 3-5p.m.) and multiple other delights. There will be entertainment throughout both days. The expected Saturday “Street Dance” from 7-11p.m. will nicely wrap-up this “birthday” bash with the music of the Longhorn Band.

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Vintage dressed admirers get their picture taken with world-famous Smokey Bear. Courtesy Photo.

Fallen Firefighters Memorial

If for no other reason, attend the Smokey Bear Days jubilee and make a contribution to the Wildland Fallen Firefighters Memorial fund, which proposes to erect a wonderful life-size bronze statue, tentatively to be located in the Smokey Bear Historical Park to honor all the brave firefighters who have sacrificed themselves to save life and property.

Research has revealed that New Mexico does not have a Fallen Firefighters Memorial. Capitan would be the ideal place for such a commemoration. Donations for this admirable cause may be made to the Smokey Bear Hometown Association (SBHA, P.O. Box 223, 88316) who is a close collaborative friend of the Park. The Association helps maintain the Park, educates the public on fire prevention, and believes the creation of a memorial would increase visitation, revenue, and expand its targeted audience of people who fully appreciate what firefighters have to contend with.

For additional information regarding times and participants of the Smokey Bear Days festivities, go here or here.

—Michael Curran