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Smokey Bear turns 65 Sunday, but his message is timeless

Smokey Bear turns 65 on Sunday, but don’t look for him to retire just yet. He plans to share messages on forest fire prevention for years to come.

Created Aug. 9, 1944, Smokey Bear — not "Smokey the Bear," as he’s often mistakenly called — first appeared on posters saying that caution would prevent 9 of 10 forest fires.

Three years later, it was changed to his famous slogan: "Remember ... only you can prevent forest fires." In 2001, the saying was modified to "Only you can prevent wildfires" when an outbreak of outdoor fires occurred outside of forests.

The message still remains relevant in Northeast Georgia today.

"He’s been a staple of our agency since it was formed, and we’ve used it all my career," said Shawn Alexander, district ranger at the Hall County Forest Ranger office in Lula. "We’ve put him in the public light as much as we could."

The Smokey Bear Wildfire Prevention campaign is the longest running public service advertising campaign in U.S. history. The Hall County office includes Smokey Bear in parades, school visits and even local civic group gatherings.

"There are more fires in the South than elsewhere in the country," Alexander said. "Generally, the ones you hear about elsewhere are larger fires in populated areas with major impact, but we had 8,000 fires in Georgia last year."

In the Gainesville district, the Forest Ranger office addressed 343 fires during fiscal year 2009, 390 in 2008 and 653 in 2007.

"Last year was a slow year, but 2007 had a lot more because of the cyclical nature of climate and rain fall," Alexander said.

The majority of fires in the area start from human causes, such as debris burning, mechanical use or children misusing fire. The local office targets third through fifth grades about safety precautions when using fire.

"We tell them it’s just not safe to work with fire," he said. "We really have used Smokey to get the word out."