Wildland safety icon turns 74

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RAPID CITY, S.D. -

Smokey Bear celebrated his 74th birthday Thursday morning at the Black Hills National Forest’s Pactola Visitor Center.

Dozens of his friends and fans came from as far away as Israel for cake and a chance to meet the champion of wildland safety.

Smokey – a New Mexico native – was orphaned after being seriously injured in a 1950 forest fire. Firefighters and forest rangers rescued the bear cub and got him medical treatment.

He is still grateful for his rescue and continues to remind visitors to America’s wildlands to enjoy them safely – even with the wet year we’ve had in South Dakota.

"We just need to be very, very careful as far as any open flame is concerned,” said Smokey, through Ursine interpreter Patti Mudge. “We're about 10 inches above normal in precipitation this year and the undergrowth as far as the forest and the grasslands, we could have a potential fire of magnitude that we haven't seen in a long time."

Smokey Bear has become so popular for his work that he is one of the only Americans to have his own zip code – 20252.

To learn more about Smokey and his work to promote healthy wildlands, visit his site with the U.S. Forest Service.

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