Who is Smokey Bear?

In the western United States, over 20 wildfires are burning that are so large and creating so much smoke that pollutants from them have even reached northern Europe. Tens of thousands of people have lost or been evacuated from their homes, and it’s likely there’s worse to come.

The reasons for these fires are a hot point of discussion in the country. Though some politicians – including the country’s president – deny it, climate change is certainly one major factor behind these blazes. However, climate change is not the only reason for the intensity of these fires. Believe it or not, another one is connected to a cartoon bear.


Meet Smokey Bear

For decades many in the U.S. have been led to believe that all forest fires are bad fires, and one of the biggest reasons for that is Smokey Bear.

Smokey Bear was born in 1944. He was created because the government wanted the public to be concerned about any sign of forest fires while WWII raged on. The War Advertising Council decided to spread this concern through a cartoon bear wearing a U.S. National Park Ranger hat and jeans named Smokey.

Smokey survived the war and he’s still in use today. His catch phrase is known by almost anyone native to the U.S.: “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.”

Advertisements using Smokey are mostly aimed at helping people remember to put out campfires or stop them from throwing still-lit cigarettes into brush. However, since Smokey is most closely connected with National Parks, many Americans have grown up with the idea that any sort of forest fire is awful for the country’s forests and protected lands. That idea was also a guiding principle of the U.S. Forest Service for over a century.

But that’s a problem.

Fire is natural and hugely important to large areas of forest in the United States. For example, the cones of the western U.S.’s giant redwood trees have adapted so that fire is one of the few things that can open them and set the seeds they hold free.

Also, areas of forest that have burned one season take time to accumulate things like dried leavesneedles, and dead brush that fuel fires. So, when a neighboring area of forest catches fire another season, the recently burned areas don’t, containing how far fires spread.

The size and intensity of the current fires on the west coast are due in part to the fear of fire Smokey Bear helped create. Because smaller fires weren’t allowed to burn out naturally, there aren’t natural fire breaks in the forest and they’re full of fuel perfect for keeping fires hot and spreading.


pollutants – Luftschadstoffe

tens of thousands – hunderttausende

there’s worse to come – das Schlimmste kommt noch

though – obwohl

to deny – leugnen

blazes – Flamme, Feuer

lead to believe – führt zum Glauben; lead-led-led

WWII raged on – Zweite Weltkrieg tobte weiter

catch phrase – Schlagwort

to prevent from – verhindern von

aimed at – abzielen auf

to put out campfires – Lagerfeuer löschen, ausmachen

still-lit cigarettes – noch glühende Zigaretten

guiding principle – Richtschnur, Leitsatz

hugely important to – ungeheuer wichtig zu

cones of redwood trees – Zapfen der Mammotbäume, Redwood Bäume

set the seeds – säen Samen aus

take time to accumulate – braucht Zeit, damit sich etwas ansammelt

leaves – Blätter

needles – Nadeln

dead brush – totes Unterholz

to fuel fires – Feuer schüren

current fires – derzeitige Feuer

are due in part to the fear of – sind zum Teil der Angst geschuldet

Excite Your Senses

On our YouTube channel, you can follow along as a native speaker reads this month’s Learning Nugget accompanied by music and pictures.

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