Longtime Smokey Bear fan spreads fire safety message

Human Interest

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For nearly 75 years, Smokey Bear has been reminding people about forest fire safety. 

And with experts predicting this summer to be a bad one for wildfires, an Oregon man is doing his best to get Smokey’s message to as many people as possible. 

Jack Winchell's Smokey Bear memorabilia. (Courtesy of Jack Winchell)

Jack Winchell said his mom started collecting Smokey memorabilia when he was just a boy. 

“She started in the 50s when my sister was a campfire girl I think,” Winchell said. “And they would go out and put posters up all over the forest ‘don’t start fires’ with Smokey.” 

Winchell wanted to keep his mother’s hobby going after she passed away. But he wanted to put his own twist on it. 

So he came up with a Smokey Bear banner inspired by a tradition set by Washington State University fans. 

“I knew the [Cougar] flag went to game day every Saturday around the country and I thought, how did this one guy get to every place in America, and then I found out from my niece that they had a network of people.” 

Winchell pays to have the banners made and sends them out to people who contact him from all over the world. 

So far, Winchell’s banners have shown up in pictures taken everywhere from the Great Wall of China to nearly every one of the 50 states

One of Jack Winchell's Smokey Bear signs. (Courtesy of Jack Winchell)

“I have 10 countries as of today; there will be 14 countries in 2 weeks,” he said. 

Oregon will soon offer special Smokey Bear license plates to commemorate the icon’s 75th birthday on Aug. 9. 

And while Winchell is excited about Smokey’s birthday, he hopes people focus on the bigger message. 

“I call it common sense: like throwing a firecracker in a dry forest near Portland — let’s use some sense there.” 

Fun fact: Winchell said the “the” in “Smokey the Bear” was added to make an old song about the bear sound better.

Winchell, who firmly believes in leaving out the extra word in the bear’s name, plans to send out his banners through August. Click here to learn how to request one.

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