Smokey Bear hot air balloon will fly high near DNR Pocket Park at UP State Fair

Contact: John Pepin, 906-250-7260 or Paul Rogers, 616-260-8406
Agency: Natural Resources

Aug. 11, 2021

Smokey Bear hot air balloon is coming to the UP State Fair.

Kids look up to Smokey Bear and his important fire-prevention messaging.

Now they'll also get the chance to look up - way up - at Smokey's familiar face and trademark hat Aug. 19-21 during the U.P. State Fair in Escanaba (Delta County). The New Mexico-based hot air balloon made in Smokey Bear's image will ascend on a tether several times near the Michigan Department of Natural Resources' Pocket Park during the fair. 

"Smokey Bear is an icon in his 77th year of telling people how to prevent forest fires," said Paul Rogers, DNR fire prevention specialist. "This balloon is a pretty impressive sight."

How impressive? The balloon - known as a "special shape" because of its unique contours:

  • Holds 145,000 cubic feet of hot air.
  • Is 97 feet tall, including the basket.
  • Measures 72 feet across at Smokey's hat brim.
  • Is made of 4,670 square yards of nylon and takes 12 to 15 people for setup and inflating.

"It's going to be impossible not to notice Smokey Bear as the balloon rises near the DNR Pocket Park," Rogers said. "It should be a lot of fun and bring attention to our fire prevention safety message."

Ascensions are planned Thursday morning, Friday evening and Saturday afternoon, weather permitting.

Smokey has been on message for decades

Fire prevention is critical in Michigan, which has more than 20 million forested acres, and in other heavily wooded states, where humans cause nine out of 10 wildfires. So far this year, DNR wildland firefighters have responded to more than 260 fires in Michigan that burned about 2,300 acres. DNR firefighters also have been called to assist with blazes in California, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon and Wyoming, as well as the Canadian province of Manitoba. Michigan is always reimbursed for the cost of sending firefighters on out-of-state assignments.

The legend of Smokey Bear began Aug. 9, 1944, when the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council agreed on a bear as a symbol for fire-prevention efforts, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The first poster of Smokey Bear depicted a bear pouring a bucket of water on a campfire. In 1947, the familiar slogan "Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires!" came into use.

After a break for the COVID-19 pandemic, Smokey Bear has resumed a schedule of in-person appearances at events around the state, delighting everybody from kids to great-grandparents with his safety message. Smokey encourages people to be careful when burning debris, put out their campfires completely and learn, share and practice fire safety.

DNR Pocket Park at Escanaba fairgrounds offers plenty of fun

The DNR Pocket Park offers U.P. State Fair visitors the chance to try fishing, shooting, archery and fire-prevention games. There will be a Smokey Bear selfie station, an "Ask the DNR" booth and a booth staffed by DNR conservation officers. There's a fire tower on-site, too. All activities within the pocket park are free. The balloon crew will bring some Smokey Bear merchandise for sale.


Note to editors: An accompanying, slightly larger photo is available below for download. Caption information follows.

  • Smokey balloon: The Smokey Bear hot air balloon is coming to the U.P. State Fair in Escanaba Aug. 19-21; it will be tethered near the DNR Pocket Park.