Smokey The Bear prepares for lift off at the 2016 Labor Day Hot Air Balloon festival in Colorado Springs.

(Smokey The Bear prepares for lift off at the 2016 Labor Day Hot Air Balloon festival in Colorado Springs.)

(The original Smokey Bear cub, healing after being rescued from the NM fire.)

(The original Smokey Bear cub, healing after being rescued from the NM fire.)

In 1950, after crews battled a forest fire in New Mexico, they also rescued a lost bear cub clinging to a charred tree.  He had been seriously burned but was fighting to survive.  During his months of recovery, the cub—appropriately named Smokey Bear—received numerous gifts, especially honey.   During the years that followed, he also received so many letters and cards that the post office gave him his own zip code.  His image became the logo for fire prevention, and when he died in 1976, the message of Smokey the Bear lived on.

In recent years, many thousands of acres have been destroyed, numerous homes and businesses burnt to the ground, and lives lost in forest fires in Colorado, New Mexico, California, Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon.   Smokey’s message is “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires,” and authorities estimate that nearly 2/3 could be prevented by humans.

Smokey’s fire safety reminders also extend to home cooking.   In America, 16% of home fire deaths and 40% of serious injuries to humans and pets are a result of cooking accidents and carelessness.

Years ago, while my mother was boiling chicken to make dumplings for a church dinner, she was called out to help a neighbor.   If you have ever experienced the horrible smoke damage and blackened ceilings caused by burned chicken, then you understand why I offer this public service reminder on her behalf.

As Smokey might also say, “Only You Can Prevent Kitchen Fires.”   If you have family or friends who have memory loss or mental confusion, remember that kitchen fires are a very real danger. Take action to protect them.   only-you-can-prevent-forest-fires

(When you volunteer for the National Park Service, you meet the nicest people...and sometimes bears, too.)

(When you volunteer for the National Park Service, you meet the nicest people…and sometimes bears, too.)



Filed under Cooking With Mom, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons for great-grandchildren, special quotations

46 responses to “HIS OWN ZIP CODE

  1. juliabarrett

    I’ve heard the lovely story of Smokey The Bear. Truly touching. And yes, many fires can be prevented. Of course there are lightning strikes but more fires are probably caused by humans. As you and I have discussed, my cousin is having problems with early-onset Alzheimer’s. One of the first blatant warning signs was burning up her kitchen. She left a plastic container sitting on a hot stove. Then she left the house. It’s a challenging situation as everyone in her immediate family still clings to denial. Very difficult.

    • Several months after I moved my parents into their asst. living apt., Julia, I was visiting when all the fire alarms went off. For an 86-year-old man’s birthday, family had a huge basket delivered of all kinds of goodies AND microwave popcorn. He put all the popcorn in the microwave and pushed the buttons for 40 min. instead of 4 minutes. It was lucky he wasn’t anywhere near his little kitchen when it exploded and blew the door off the microwave. 😉 I knew where the master switch was to everything in my parents’ kitchen, and we turned it off until I (or a caregiver) would be in the kitchen cooking. It’s a hard time for everyone.

  2. Whatever our age or state of health, it’s important to be aware of fire prevention measures, especially in the kitchen. If I could afford it I would buy an induction stove top.

    • Twenty years ago, Gallivanta, we set the pizza box on top of the stove while we set the table, not knowing someone had turned the stove burner on High instead of off. And we were still young when it happened, which was good because it took forever to clean up the mess. 😦

  3. Smokey the Bear’s fame even reached me in New Zealand. 🙂

  4. California is parched from the drought and we are having many fires. The Soberanes fire here in Big Sur was caused by an illegal campfire. Over 102,499 acres are burned and it is only 60 % contained.
    Smokey the Bear needs to be a constant reminder that we have to be very careful.

    • I’ve been watching all the California evacuations and the damage, Gerlinde. Have the fires reached you?
      When Colorado Springs had the Waldo Canyon fires, the ask was so heavy it looked like snow, and entire neighborhoods and the Garden of the Gods adjacent to us all had to be evacuated and closed. And the next year it hit the north east part of the city in Black Forest. Now when we get big rains, areas are flooded. We do need Smokey the Bear to remind everyone to be really careful.

  5. I have been notorious for burnt offerings in the kitchen.

    When my nose tells me something on the stove has been pan seared or worse, OR hear the smoke alarm go off, I know I’m in trouble. So I’ve learned to set the timer on my iPhone and place it right next to my laptop. When I switch to my “writing zone” I’m oblivious to cooking responsibilities. Great reminder, Marylin.

    • We’ve had quite a few “scorcher events,” too, Marian. But none came even close to the burnt chicken fiasco in my parents’ home. Walls had to be professionally cleaned and repaired, ceilings painted or repapered, carpet replaced, and a huge mound of dry clean-only clothing hauled off to the cleaners for special work.
      I like your idea of the timer set next to your laptop! 🙂

  6. A good reminder, Marylin.Thank you. People need to be careful outdoors and indoors. I like your photos, too.

    Have you read the last Wallander book, or seen the excellent series with Kenneth Brannagh? I thought of a scene in it.

  7. I love the story of Smokey the bear. Thanks for sharing it. Kitchen fires are my worst nightmare. My friend put a chicken in the oven to roast, set the timer and went to church. She had done this often, the oven would switch off at the set time. This time, it didn’t work and she came home to a burnt lump and a horrible smell in her house . It took forever to get rid of it. She needed all new carpets, curtains, wallpaper etc for the entire house!! At least she still had a house.

    • My mom’s oven had a special timing device, Darlene, but never in all the years she had the oven did she use it. She worried something like what happened to your friend would happen to her. As it turned out, though, just boiling pans of chickens on top of the stove and then hurrying to help a neighbor did all the same damage you friend experienced. Even after replacing everything, the scene lingered for a long time.

  8. I never knew the history of Smokey the Bear…very interesting. A year ago, I went into the kitchen at 4 a.m., as I do every morning, to boil my eggs. In my sleepy state, I put the eggs on the stove and went upstairs to get ready for work. Sadly, I forgot one important step in the egg boiling process…adding water. Yike! Thankfully, there was no fire, only exploded eggs. Boy, was that a mess! Thanks for the reminder, Marylin. xo

    • Oh, Jill, at some point surely you’ll find a way to use this as a scene in your writing.
      One of the teachers I worked with was taking care of her elderly father, and one morning he decided to fix himself some eggs in that “new contraption”–her microwave. While she was in the shower, he went into the kitchen, put the entire carton of eggs in the microwave and pushed some of the buttons. Luckily he forgot about it and went into the other room. It blew the microwave door off its hinges! 🙂

  9. Don

    What a beautiful story Marylin.

  10. Nancy Parker Brummett

    I had no idea you had that celebrity siting! Congrats.

  11. Marylin, thank you for sharing Smokey the Bear’s backstory and his message. ❤️

    • You’re welcome, Tracy. We got the Smokey Bear coloring books, kerchiefs and flashlights for Grace and Gannon when they were small, so they really like the backstory and message, too. 😉 ❤

  12. I once had to rush to the aid of an elderly neighbour who had set off her fire alarm but didn’t know how to switch it off. She’d left something to boil dry on the stove. Fortunately not much damage. It wasn’t long before her family moved her to an assisted living facility.

    • While moving older friends and family into assisted living facilities is a sad and difficult move, Jenny, in the long run it’s also very wise. At least your neighbor got off easy with just the awful smell of burned chicken. It could have been so much worse.

  13. Thank you for the reminder. We experienced this with my mother-in-law about a year ago. Dementia is a very challenging, sad disease. Have a wonderful week, Marylin! XO

    • Even in my mom’s asst. living apartment, Robyn, I’ve learned where the main shut off for the stove and oven is located. She gets confused and tries to figure out what the knobs on the stove do. The caregivers also keep napkins, paper products and containers on the counter, far away from the stove top burners. 😦

  14. Jim

    Didn’t know where the original “Smokey Bear” came from. Very cool story! One doesn’t need to be elderly to make a stove-top mistake! Remember the empty pizza box???

    • I do remember the pizza box on the stove top, honey, but let’s not discuss that. (I also remember the mess that we worked so hard to clean up). Smokey Bear would have been shaking his head at us, saying, “Only you can prevent pizza box fires!” ❤

  15. Molly Mosher

    Well at our house, Gannon takes care of us every month. Thanks to Grandpa, Gannon has a monthly job of checking all smoke detectors and the CO2 detectors, too. He and Grandpa have talked extensively about the importance of having your smoke detectors always working. So at our house Gannon is kind of our Smokey da Bear! 🙂

    • Gannon is definitely Grandpa’s trusted “fire preventer” who checks all the smoke detectors and CO2 detectors each month. Smokey Bear would be cheering for this!
      Hugs to you, Molly, excellent mom of our grandkids. You and your dad are quite a team, teaching these skills! Love you all, lots and lots.

  16. Hi Marylin, I just left a weekend in Cook Forest, PA. The trees were absolutely beautiful and thankfully, I did not run into any bears! Thank you for your reminder to all of us to take care in the kitchen. My son was living in an apartment a few years ago and a similar situation happened to him. He was cooking something on the stove and the lid was on the pan. He saw fire underneath and took the lid off. Needless to say, the fire department came. I don’t think there was much damage but he learned a valuable lesson.
    I never knew the story of Smokey the Bear. Now I know!
    xo Joanne

    • What a perfect reminder, Joanne, that this can happen to any of us.
      Smokey Bear is a survivor of a bad fire, and his story is so touching. I love that he got so many cards and gifts of honey and coloring pages from children that the post office finally just gave him his own zip code!
      You weekend in Cook Forest sounds wonderful. Our next visit to my mom at the the of the month will be when southeast Kansas (where a swath of the Ozarks runs through) will be beginning a crisp fall glow. ❤

  17. All of us are absentminded at some point. Not mentioning any names, just whistles and looks in the mirror. Thank you for the reminder. My Brother this past summer had a 100 hector forest fire about 10km directly west of him, the result of a lightning strike. Luckily it burnt itself out in about five days.

    As for bears, I’ve known a few up close and personal.But none I’d put my arm around. Lucky you. To be honest all I want to see of a bear is it’s butt going in another direction than I http://www.beyondplumcreek.com/shtufffs/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/bear-butt.jpg they’re a beautiful animal, but..

  18. This Smokey Bear was the best kind of mascot, and I, like the kids who visited, enjoyed having my picture taken with such a celebrity. 😉 Your brother was lucky to be in a fire that burned itself out so quickly, Calvin. Lightning fires don’t fit under the category of Smokey’s “Only you can prevent forest fires,” that’s for sure. And the picture on your link for bear-butt is great; the best bear butt picture ever! 🙂

  19. Perhaps there a place for Smokey as in the kitchen, in modern times in the heads of community planners and government officials even when it comes to lightning strike fires. This country, in a couple Provinces and Territories have had entire communities wipe-outed by out of control fires. Fort McMurray the most recent. I realize am off topic.

    • Control fires don’t always live up to their names, Calvin. Through the years we’ve witnessed several control fires out of control, destroying homes and property that were not included in the fields being cleared by supposedly safely controlled fires. Smokey Bear cubs need to get involved with kitchens and control fires. 🙂

  20. Marylin, I came home tonight to the pungent smell of roasted vegetables and for a minute worried that I had not turned off the oven. Turned out to be a false alarm, but fire is still a real danger. The stories above of how caregivers need to think through all the dangers and remove them is sobering.

    But the picture of you with Smokey the Bear is heartening. It must be fun to be a Park Service volunteer.

  21. Oh, Shirley, if you’d forgotten to turn off the oven, the smell would be pungent in a very non-appetizing way, I assure you. I’m glad your meal turned out well.
    Actually, my volunteering is less about posing with Smokey, and more about driving all the trails during the fundraising Christmas tree cutting. You’d be surprised how many families get stuck on the trails and need to be pulled out! 🙂

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