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A new Smokey Bear virtual assistant will help educate the public on fire safety

Smokey bear, wearing a forest service hat and holding a shovel, with the caption "only you"
U.S. Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Region
Smokey Bear says, "only you can prevent forest fires."

Launching this week, a new wildfire prevention campaign from the USDA Forest Service features an animated Smokey Bear virtual assistant that will share wildfire prevention tips and answer common questions about outdoor safety. Jessica Gilmore, a Fire Prevention Technician on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, said Smokey Bear has been an effective mascot for wildfire prevention for decades.

“I think a lot of folks have grown up with Smokey Bear, we all hear his tagline at play in our minds - 'Only you can prevent wildfires' - and we see that iconic image of the Smokey Bear hat and the shovel in his forest jeans, just out there watching and making sure that folks are recreating responsibly and preventing wildfires,” Gilmore said.

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, 90% of wildfires are caused by humans. Gilmore said wildfires can occur in all regions of the United States and at any time of year.

“All it takes is a dry bed of vegetation, and a spark. And that can happen in Florida, it can happen in Kansas, it can happen in Washington," Gilmore said. "There are areas across the United States that are experiencing drought. And in those areas, it's especially important for folks to be aware of what the local weather conditions are.”

Gilmore said the new Smokey Bear campaign is part of a long-term effort to protect the nation’s wildlands.

“We want to make sure that folks understand that there are tools out there to access information. There's Smokey also has an Instagram account @SmokeyBear. You can follow him on Twitter @Smokey_Bear… the more knowledge that we have and the more we share this message, the more successful Smokey Bear’s message will be," Gilmore said.

While he adapts and changes with digital technology, Smokey Bear’s message remains the same – "only you can prevent wildfires."

Caroline Long is a science reporter at UPR. She is curious about the natural world and passionate about communicating her findings with others. As a PhD student in Biology at Utah State University, she spends most of her time in the lab or at the coyote facility, studying social behavior. In her free time, she enjoys making art, listening to music, and hiking.