Fire Prevention Bear To Celebrate Birthday

Smokey Bear turns 70 on Saturday. Since 2008, actor Sam Elliott has been the voice of the public service announcement icon. The PSA campaign began on August 9, 1944 — the same day Elliott was born.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And our Last Word in business is a bear.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A bear with his own ZIP Code - bear who talks but only says one thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SAM ELLIOTT: (As Smokey Bear) Only you can prevent wildfires.

INSKEEP: Smokey Bear turns 70-years-old tomorrow. He's the star of the longest-running public service announcement campaign in American history.

ELLIOTT: (As Smokey Bear) Let a little fire get started, catch on, destroy and your forest is nothing. Remember, only you can prevent forest fires.

ELLIOTT: He's a guy on a mission to protect the forests and protect the wild lands.

INSKEEP: That last voice there is actor Sam Elliott. When he's not playing a cowboy in movies like "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" or "the Big Lebowski," he is the voice of Smokey Bear. He's done that since 2008.

GREENE: And there's something special about having Sam Elliott in this role.

ELLIOTT: I realized that we had the same birthday, August 9th, 1944. That was the same date, the same year they started this campaign.

GREENE: So on that date, Sam Elliott was born in Sacramento and a bear was chosen as the symbol of fire prevention.

INSKEEP: Wow, he's a World War II baby. Now, at that time, an average of 22 million acres of forest were destroyed by fires each year. Humans caused 90 percent of those fires, so the government commissioned an artist to create Smokey.

GREENE: Elliott remembers seeing signs featuring Smokey when he was a kid.

ELLIOTT: Everywhere you went in those days, at the trailhead, there was this iconic vision. You know, it was either a statue or some bear carved into a board.

GREENE: The campaign caught fire as it - soon attracted commercial interests.

INSKEEP: So in 1952, Congress passed the Smokey Bear Act to protect the bear's image. According to the United States Forest Service, Smokey must always...

GREENE: Appear dignified and friendly.

INSKEEP: Avoid clowning and horse play.

GREENE: And never walked rapidly toward small children.

INSKEEP: So happy birthday to Smokey Bear and also Sam Elliott. Also, be careful lighting the candles. That's the Business News on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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