It was in 1950 when a devastating fire swept through New Mexico's Capitan Mountains that a little bear cub took refuge from the flames high in an oak tree. He was named Smokey... Smokey Bear (although later on "the" was inserted and the alteration stuck).
But the story of Smokey actually started several years earlier. In 1944 the concept of a bear talking to people about forest fires was born. The little Capitan Mountains bear became the face of that campaign.
This year it the 70th anniversary of the start of that concept. And the town of Capitan is honoring that tiny bear cub with a three-day celebration.
After his rescue, Smokey eventually ended up in the National Zoo in Washington, DC zoo, succumbing to old age 26 years later. He is buried in Capitan.
But Smokey become more than a rescued bear. He became the embodiment of the dangers to wildlife of forest fires. For years he would look out from public service announcements reminding people "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires."
Learn more about Smokey's history
The year 2014 would have been Smokey's 70th birthday, and in honor of that occasion, the town of Capitan is extending their celebration to three days.
The town will host the usual fun events -- a parade, live music, food, arts & craft vendors, but there will be some special bear-themed activities, too. Visitors can watch chain saw carvers in action and then bid on the sculptures at auction. You can have you picture taken with a Smokey, and there will be another auction of Smokey Bear memorabilia. In keeping with the dangers of fire, you can watch the firefighters challenge.
While you're in town stop in at the Smokey Bear Museum and Gift Shop. Tucked next to Smokey Bear Historical Park the Museum Gift shop is a separate but related Smokey place, still in the original log building from when the museum was started. The small space is filled with memorabilia, photos, and people who are eager to tell you Smokey's story, including some behind the scenes information. You'll enjoy it.