Fired Up: Smokey Bear celebrates 75th birthday in Hampton Falls

In 1944 a mascot was created by the USDA Forest Service and Ad Council with one goal in mind: to educate the public on the dangers of forest fires and ways to be cautious and cognizant of the risks of participating in any fire-related activities. His name was Smokey Bear, and 75 years later he still lives on. To celebrate his big 75th, Smokey is going on a nationwide tour, and along the way he’s making a stop at the Hampton Falls Fire Safety Complex.

Coordinated by the Hampton Falls Free Library and the Hampton Falls Fire Department, Smokey Bear will visit the Seacoast on Tuesday, July 9, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in what Hampton Falls Fire Department’s Fire Chief

Jay Lord said is Smokey’s first visit to the area in around a decade. Over the course of his hour-long visit, Smokey will be meeting and talking pictures with visitors while a forest ranger reads to children, educates them on fire safety and gives them a “touch-a-truck” opportunity with a wildland fire engine, courtesy of the Forest Protection Bureau.

Additionally, the forest ranger will show off some equipment that the Hampton Falls Fire Department uses to fight fires, including the different types of clothes they wear.

“We’ll kind of vary it along the lines of how interested the kids are and what their age group is,” Lord said.

Hampton Falls Free Library, along with 60 other New Hampshire libraries, submitted an application to receive a visit from Smokey. It was one of six libraries in New Hampshire, selected by the New Hampshire State

Library and the New Hampshire Forest Protection Bureau, to host Smokey, and the only library on the Seacoast.

The event is free and open to the public, and Hampton Falls Free Library Director Barbara Tosiano said she hopes for a big turnout and expects plenty of Boy Scouts to be in attendance. Although the event is geared for children, Tosiano said adults can attend the event with their children, or, if they don’t attend, their children can teach them a thing or two after spending an hour with Smokey Bear and the forest ranger.

“Adults are welcome to the event, but like everything else, if you educate children and you empower children, then they educate the parents,” she said. “So, if you teach children about the importance of being careful with things like campfires, matches, fireworks, etc., then the children become aware of it, and they actually educate the parents.”

Lord explained that fire safety is something everyone should be knowledgeable about, regardless of their age or home state. He said that although forest fires are much more prevalent in California and western America, they can still happen in the New England area if people aren’t careful.

“We don’t get the 100,000-acre fires they have out West, but we have a lot more moisture, so we don’t have as high as that potential,” he said. “But, you know, four or five years ago there was a 200-acre fire in Ossipee, and two years ago in the fall there was a 175-acre fire in the White Mountain National Forest. So we get them, we just don’t get the 10,000-acre fires.”

Lord also gave some tips to prevent forest fires and any fires that get out of control, saying the No. 1 thing to keep in mind is that “every fire starts small.”

“Before they start the fire, make sure the area around it is clear. There’s nothing that the fire can transmit to and get away from them,” he said. “Have a shovel, have a water source, either a bucket or a hose, and then, when they’re done, make sure that the fire is out and truly wet and cold.”

“A fire is not out until it’s wet and cold and mixed in [with] the water and the ash is all together, and then it’s truly out; don’t just leave it,” he continued. “A lot of problems start with people just leaving campfires, and then the wind comes up and blows a spark and off it goes.”

Lord and Tosiano both agreed that, despite teaching kids the facts of fire safety, people have to keep in mind that they are just that — kids — and keeping it fun while including vital information is a must for an event such as this. Thus, Smokey plays an integral role.

“I think the kids will be thrilled to touch a truck and to meet Smokey, and then they will hopefully learn a little bit about fire safety, particularly in the woods,” Tosiano said.

“[We’ll be] teaching them fire safety and kind of making it tangible for them,” Lord said. “‘Oh yeah, Smokey told me X, Y, Z,’ so they can associate it to something, especially for the little kids. Kids don’t care about facts. Kids care about ‘Oh, I need to do this because.’ It’s all education.”

Visit smokeybear75th.org

— Caleb Jagoda

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