Smokey Bear has been on tour the last couple of months visiting most local elementary schools to publicize the annual Smokey Bear Poster Contest.
With the Jan. 15 deadline just around the corner, Gary Roberts, Payson Ranger District fire prevention officer, wants to remind the Rim country's first- through fifth-graders to send in their entries. He also wants students in those grades who were not reached through an elementary school that they, too, are eligible for the competition.
"Kids who are home-schooled and who go to church schools are also eligible," Roberts said.
With a repeat of last year's record-setting fire season, he believes the contest is a good way to keep people thinking about things they can do to protect their homes and families.
"This past fire season was just so extreme, and the more we can get people to cooperate and work together as a team the better off we're all going to be," Roberts said.
The winning poster will be reproduced and used nationwide to convey Smokey Bear's theme, "Only you can prevent forest fires."
The national winner will receive a free trip to Washington, D.C. for four -- including airfare and accommodations -- to attend the presentation ceremony at the National Garden Clubs Convention. The first-place winner for each grade level will receive a $100 U.S. Savings Bond.
But Roberts also emphasizes his desire to keep fire safety in the public eye.
"It's another way to keep people aware of the fire situation here," he said. "We can't just let the ball drop."
Besides the Rodeo-Chediski, Pack Rat and Five Mile fires which ravaged northern Arizona last summer, an average of 307 wildfires destroy U.S. forests and grasslands every day. The most frequent cause of wildfires is campfires not extinguished properly, according to Roberts.
The Smokey Bear character, an internationally recognized symbol for wildfire prevention, is based on a real bear. In 1950, when Smokey was a five-pound cub, he was rescued from a wildfire in his New Mexico forest home.
Firefighters found the badly-burned cub clinging to a charred tree and saved his life. Smokey was flown to Washington, D.C. to become the living symbol of wildfire prevention and wildlife conservation.
With Smokey on the job, the incidence of forest fires decreased by 20,000 in 1950 alone. By the time he died in 1976, six million children had enrolled in Smokey Bear's Junior Forest Ranger Program.
Today, Smokey Bear is the second most recognized icon in America, topped only by Santa Claus. He has his own zip code -- 20252 -- and sometimes receives as many as 1,000 letters a day.
Poster entries can also feature Woodsy Owl, a newer character created in 1971. While Smokey Bear focuses on wildfire prevention, Woodsy Owl's mission is environmental education and natural resource conservation. Woodsy Owl challenges children to "Lend a Hand -- Care for the Land" through recycling, re-using, reducing waste, planting and caring for trees, using resources like water and electricity wisely, and not littering.
According to the official poster contest rules, posters must be done entirely by the student artist and Smokey Bear or Woodsy Owl must be featured on the poster along with their respective theme. Posters, which should be 12 by 18 inches in size, will be judged equally on originality, design, slogan, artwork and overall effectiveness.
Other contest rules include:
- Materials: crayons, markers, poster paints and watercolors can be used.
- Bold colors are best.
- No three-dimensional posters, computer-scanned or electronically-generated images.
- Print the artist's name, address, home phone number, grade level, school, city and state on the back of the poster in the lower right corner.
- Arizona entries should be submitted to Arizona's National Garden Club at:
831 Rosewood Drive
Yuma, AZ 85364-7164
Smokey Bear's website is www.smokeybear.com. His full address is Smokey Bear, Washington, D.C. 20252.