Wildland fire preventions biggest advocate turns 74

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PACTOLA RESERVOIR, S.D. (KOTA TV) - Smokey Bear, the face of the longest running public service campaign in U.S. history and has reminded us for generations - "Only You Can Prevent Wildfires," turned 74 years old on Thursday

The Black Hills National Forest Service celebrated the old bear's birthday by offering free cake to those in attendance at the Pactola Visitors Center. Smokey was there himself to take pictures and do a meet and greet. In 1950 after a major wildfire in the Capitan Mountains in New Mexico, a bear cub was able to survive a direct firestorm by climbing to the top of a tree but was badly burned on his legs and paws. He was treated by a veterinarian in Santa Fe and was eventually transported to the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington. Since then he became the living embodiment of Smokey Bear. In a rare twist of fate, the veterinarian who treated that little smokey bear, Dr. Ed Smtih, was represented at the party, his son happened to be in the Black Hills for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and came to the celebration.

"Oh that little bear loved my father after he treated for his wounds, my dad would hold the bear on his shoulder, he'd fall asleep on his shoulder and he really loved my dad," said Gordon Smith. "My mom and dad went to visit him about a year and half later to the Washington D.C. zoo and my dad started talking to him and he perked up and sniffed my dad and he knew exactly who my dad was so it was a lot of fun."

Affectionately known as Smokey Days, a big 75th birthday bash is planned for Smokey Bear next year at the Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan, N.M.