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Letters to Smokey Bear Reveal Promise of Hope for the Future

Posted by Kathryn Sosbe, Office of Communication, U.S. Forest Service in Forestry
Jul 01, 2014
For 70 years, children and adults have written to Smokey Bear, the U.S. Forest Service symbol for wildfire prevention. So many letters were sent in the 1960s that the U.S. Postal Service authorized a ZIP code – 20252 – just for Smokey. (U.S. Forest Service)
For 70 years, children and adults have written to Smokey Bear, the U.S. Forest Service symbol for wildfire prevention. So many letters were sent in the 1960s that the U.S. Postal Service authorized a ZIP code – 20252 – just for Smokey. (U.S. Forest Service)

Smokey Bear, the iconic symbol of wildfire prevention for 70 years, is for many people a comforting symbol of a promise that everything will be okay. As long as we all work together, as one of Smokey’s young pen pals wrote recently.

“Dear Smokey: I would like to be a Junior Forest Ranger and help the big rangers. I promise to look after the forest and watch out for baddies making fires and damaging trees. Love Adam”

The letters come one-by-one or in neatly piled stacks, with carefully drawn portraits and hastily scrawled letters. They want to know if Smokey Bear is okay. They ask if he can write to them. They show compassion, knowing Smokey’s mother did not make it out of the fire.

“Dear Smokey: I think your story was awesome. I want to prevent forest fires. I am with you forest fires stink. I am so sory that your mother past away. Some day I want to be like you. Reed”

For 70 years, hundreds of thousands of letters have landed on Smokey Bear’s desk, sometimes addressed as only “Smokey Bear 20252.” The letters came even though 10 years ago Smokey’s specially designated ZIP code was decommissioned.

But thanks to the joint efforts of the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Postal Service, 20252 is once again Smokey Bear’s official ZIP code. The reinstatement of the official ZIP code also comes just in time for Smokey’s 70th birthday.

U.S. Forest Service illustration by Mary Jane Senter.
U.S. Forest Service illustration by Mary Jane Senter.

“Luckily, the letters never stopped coming,” said Bob Schneider, the Forest Service volunteer who helps Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl open mail and answer letters. “I spent my entire life living near and camping in national forests, and you can’t underestimate the importance of the lessons taught by Smokey Bear. Generations of children have learned to be more careful and not to play with matches.

“I was one of those children. And today, I could not be more proud than to be helping Smokey Bear continue to teach that ‘Only you can prevent wildfires.’”

“Dear Smokey the Bear. I love you so much! You are my hero! I live in Wisconsin and we have the amazing, the beautiful, Nicoley Chegomogan National Forest. Love Future Forest Ranger/Smokey’s Friend Flynn”

In 1944, the Forest Service and the Ad Council agreed that a fictional character would be the symbol for fighting forest fires. The fictional character became real six years later after a bear cub was found in the aftermath of a wildfire on the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico. By 1964, Smokey Bear began receiving so many letters from children that the Postal Service awarded 20252 as Smokey’s official ZIP code. The letters, drawings and even Christmas cards have not stopped coming. And they are not always from children.

Students who write to Smokey Bear receive tokens in return, including a copy of “The True Story of Smokey Bear.” (U.S. Forest Service)
Students who write to Smokey Bear receive tokens in return, including a copy of “The True Story of Smokey Bear.” (U.S. Forest Service)

“Dear Smokey: My grandson is turning 4, and I would like him to start learning about wildfires. You were so good to my children. Could you send something to him?”

Smokey’s mailbox also gets big letters like the 24-inch by 30-inch pieces of paper from a Ohio pre-school that includes a list of questions from the 4-year-olds:

“Did you ever go camping? Josh”
“Where do you live now? Sophia”
“You’re my best friend. Myla”
“I want you to live with me. Braden”

Some letters are poignant, reminding those who work with Smokey that all kinds of lessons can be learned. Like the one written on yellow lined paper in carefully printed letters.

“I am writing to you in concern of getting help to send my beautiful daughter some gifts. I have been locked up since December 4, 2007, and I love my wife and children deeply . . . My daughter has Downs-syndrome. I have made some very bad decisions in my life, and my wife and children have paid for my wrongs.”

“Smokey sent his daughter a packet of information,” Schneider said. “It’s always been about the kids.”

Editor’s Note: Letter excerpts are printed as written.

Smokey Bear, the U.S. Forest Service symbol for wildfire prevention.
Smokey Bear, the U.S. Forest Service symbol for wildfire prevention.
Category/Topic: Forestry

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Comments

Patricia Taber
Jul 14, 2014

Smokey was a hero of mine, I had my certificate hung so proudly on my bedroom wall until I left for the Army. I am amazed at the 10 or so times in my life I have been complimented about my fire safety ways. I always thought, what an odd thing to comment on, it's just the ONLY way to be. Wrong, some people are scary to be around. A young gal just flicked her still lit cigarette on the ground when she was done with it..,as I was pumping gas at the same station. I put it out right away and she belittled me for being concerned. People! Smokey the Bear is great! I need a new kit!

Ty
Feb 17, 2015

Smokey bear I am your number I fan and I want to know if I can be a jr. Fire protector

Ty
Feb 17, 2015

Smokey bear I am your number 1fan me and my family are going to the smokey mountains so I hope to see you there!

Matt Lamp
Jun 22, 2015

Hello My Name Is Matthew Lamp I Am Writing To See If I Could Possibly Ask For A Department Patch I am working on a project for a autistic boy here in Wood County WV he loves fire and EMS and patches I am trying to get him as many patches as I can Get him From All Over The United States And Other Countries I Am The Photographer For our Local Fire Investigation Team And Was Wondering If You Might Be Able To Help Out . If You Would Be Able To Or Interested. Let Me Know And I Will Give You My Address Thank You And God Bless
His Name Is Zachary Hamilton

Holly Kline
Nov 23, 2015

How do I get a Smokey the Bear sign/small billboard for my cabin? I would like to post it at the corner of my property. We are at the beginning of a 360 acre forest so that all those that enter either by car or foot (trail leads to the Appalachian Trail) can view it. We have been there for 8 years and there has been 3 fires. My dad used to have a Smokey the Bear hat...we grew up with Smokey! Thanks.

Karlen
Dec 15, 2016

I wrote Smokey 40 yrs ago in the 3rd grade and never got a reply. But my class mates got replys :(

Zachary Fender
Apr 23, 2017

Dear Smokey,
Can you please come visit soon. I am a 7 year old boy that loves being outside looking at all the trees.

Love,
Zachary F.

Beth Barnard
Aug 09, 2017

I grew up knowing the Smokey the Bear story in the mid 1970s. In 2013 when my girls were 4 yrs. old, I sang them the Smokey the Bear Song. They made me sing it until they learned it (every verse). They have been big fans of Smokey ever since. We have had to drive 20 plus miles to a ranger station just so they could wave to Smokey as we passed by. They will soon be 8 yrs old now and still love Smokey and his message. I have become acquainted with the local rangers and help get Smokey in the elementary school every year. We need more role models like Smokey. I'd love to see a cartoon series with Smokey and his friends addressing ways for kids to deal with tough situations. I wonder if Smokey could stomp out bullying? Thank you for bringing him back. :)

olivia
Aug 23, 2017

Dear Smokey Bear
My name is Olivia and i learned about firwst fires and know to be safe and have my mam mam and pap pap around if there is a fire
Thank you
I love you your friend
Olivia

Brenda Provence Sanders
Dec 12, 2017

My Daddy, Huey Provence, worked for the Forest Service (Ozark National Forest) from 1964 to his retirement twenty odd years later. To this day (I am 59) I cringe when I see someone burning leaves on a day that is less than optimal. By that I mean it should be a driving rain, with no chance of letting up for the next 48 - 72 hours. Well, maybe not that bad, but Daddy was VERY protective of the Forest. He grew up in it, on private land settled by his great-great grandparents in the 1800's. I remember that he dressed up as Smokey and made presentations to local school kids. Between Smokey and Daddy, I think our forests were well protected.