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FireSmart Canada retires Smokey Bear in favour of Canadian-made fox mascot

Click to play video: 'FireSmart Canada retires Smokey Bear in favour of Canadian-made fox mascot'
FireSmart Canada retires Smokey Bear in favour of Canadian-made fox mascot
One of North America's most iconic mascots is retiring after nearly 80 years of Canadian public service. Smokey Bear is stepping out of the limelight to make way for new modern messaging. Jasmine King reports. – Oct 14, 2022

So long, Smokey Bear, and here’s hoping your sudden retirement last year is going smoothly.

In March of 2021, FireSmart Canada announced its new mascot, Ember the FireSmart Fox. The news may be old, but social media posts this week are discussing the new mascot and Smokey’s retirement.

“With the introduction of Ember, FireSmart BC will retire Smokey Bear, the U.S. wildfire prevention icon,” reads part of the press release from 19 months ago.

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For those not in the know, FireSmart is a national program aimed at helping people reduce wildfire risks.

With room for only one mascot, Smokey got the ol’ heave-ho despite nearly 80 years of faithful service. There was no word if a retirement party was held for the big and beloved bear.

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On FireSmart’s website, Ember the red fox — who is almost Pikachu yellow and not orange or red — is described as the “perfect fire-smart messenger because of her unique characteristics, which include: alertness, adaptability, intelligence and community mindedness.”

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Smokey Bear is one of North America’s best-known mascots, along with being a symbol to prevent forest fires. He was created on Aug. 9, 1944, in a collaborative effort between the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Ad Council.

According to the USFS, artist Albert Staehle was asked to paint the first poster of Smokey Bear. It depicted a bear pouring a bucket of water on a campfire and saying “Care will prevent 9 out of 10 fires.”

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Open House: Protecting your home from wildfires

The USFS says Smokey Bear soon became very popular as his image appeared on a variety of forest fire prevention materials. In 1947, his slogan became the familiar “Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires!”

The USFS said firefighters in 1950 managed to rescue a bear cub that was badly burned in a New Mexico wildfire. The bear was named Smokey and was moved to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., where he lived until his death in 1976.

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His remains were returned to New Mexico and buried in the State Historical Park.

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As to why FireSmart Canada went with a new a mascot, it said multiple studies show that visual aids are very useful in absorbing information, and while generations of Canadians are familiar with Smokey Bear, there were several reasons for a changing of the guard.

“With Ember the Fox, we have some control over what the message is. With Smokey the Bear, we use the product but we don’t have any input into the message,” said FireSmart Canada director Ray Ault.

“The most obvious difference is in appearance: the way Ember was drawn represents new approaches to animated characters and how they appeal to modern audiences of all ages,” said FireSmart.

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“Another factor is authenticity: we felt it was time for Canada to have its own voice regarding wildfire preparedness; everything about Ember was conceived, designed, and developed by Canadians for Canadians.

“Both of these considerations meant essential improvements in form and function alike, increasing FireSmart BC’s effectiveness at building understanding on how to protect lives and property from the threat of wildfire.”

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Wildfire Season extends into fall as crews battle two fires in B.C.’s Southern Interior

FireSmart Canada says Ember’s beginnings started in October 2020, when a national contest was held to determine their new mascot’s name.

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FireSmart says of the more than 500 submissions, the winning entry came from an Arlene Steward of Swansea Point in B.C.’s Interior, just south of Sicamous, alongside Mara Lake.

“My choice of Ember as the FireSmart fox came from the fact that it only takes an ember to start a fire,” Arlene wrote on FireSmart’s website. “An ember can turn from a smouldering ground fire to a forest fire in moments.”

The province also took aim at Smokey’s mantra – Only YOU can prevent forest fires, which was used from 1947 until 2001, when it was slightly modified to wildfires.

Ember, says the province, articulates a much more sophisticated approach.

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Educating the public during fire prevention week

“That simple message and its invocation of individual responsibility were perfect for generating basic levels of awareness, but these days our knowledge of wildfire — how it spreads, the role it plays in nature, the heightened risks associated with the wildland-urban interface, etc. — is far more extensive,” reads the website.

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It continued, saying “Decades of observation and study have taught us so much, not just about how to prevent wildfire, but also how to fight it, how to manage it with prescribed burning, as well as its cultural role within Indigenous communities.

“Not to mention how good habits and advance preparation are absolutely crucial to preserving lives and property.”

Although Smokey has been an icon for close to 80 years, FireSmart says they needed to find a way to appeal to younger generations.

“It’s really the kids that we’re influencing and this change in the methods, requires a new messenger and that messenger is Ember the Fox,” said Ault.

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More information about Ember the FireSmart Fox, including colouring books and games, can be found on FireSmart Canada’s website.

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