Smokey Bear and Missouri Department of Conservation Resource Forester Russell Hinnah visited children at the EMAA Head Start of Mid St. Francois County last week.
Hinnah began his talk by telling the students the story of Smokey.
Seventy years ago, someone carelessly caused a forest fire which took days to put out. While putting out that fire, a bear was found – burned but still alive.
They decided “Smokey” would be a fitting name for the bear. They nursed him back to health and decided to use the bear to prevent wild fires.
“Did you help him get out of the fire?” one student asked Hinnah, with drew laughs from adults.
Hinnah tested the children with a few questions.
“What do you do if you find matches?” he asked.
“Give it your mom and dad,” one child replied.
He also told them that they need to be careful to put out campfires when they are done camping.
One child asked if Smokey was a member of the fire department. Hinnah said no but he helps with fires — in preventing them.
The students were leery of the big, furry bear at first. Most warmed up to him and shook his hand. Several even gave him a hug.
Keaton Buckley, 5, was so excited about seeing Smokey that his parents took him to preschool for a visit after he had two teeth pulled that morning.
The local Head Starts are recruiting for next year. There are centers in Park Hills, Farmington and Bonne Terre.
The center on Tenth Street in Park Hills has 80 students this year and hopes to be able to take 90 students next year. For more information, call 573-431-2658.
The preschool is for three to five year olds and eligibility is based on income, and can also be based on disabilities or family circumstances.