MISSOURI — Smokey the Bear turns 75 this year and while the bear has aged, his message has not: wildfire prevention.

Wildfires cause millions of dollars worth of damage each around Missouri, but there are ways that residents can help prevent them from occurring.

KMZU’s Dan Watson spoke with Mark Nelson, a Forestry Supervisor with the Missouri Department of Conservation to find out how wildfires start, what can be done to prevent them and how Smokey has helped in spreading awareness about wildfires over the decades.

Click below to hear their conversation which aired Tuesday on KMZU.

According to Nelson, a majority wildfires in Missouri do not occur from camp fires, but debris fires.

“More than 50 percent of our wildfires are caused by careless outdoor burning of debris.”

Windy days can ignite fires in trash barrels or debris piles of the coals or embers have not been fully extinguished.

“Everybody goes out and burns the day before when its nice and not windy,” stated Nelson, “but then they forget to extinguish all coals and so the next day if the wind picks up, that’s when we see wildfires.”

One way that Missourians can reduce the number of wildfires is to stay with their debris or trash while it is burning.

“So we ask homeowners, people to burn responsibly,” Nelson said, “if they’re going to burn debris or trash outdoors, make sure that you stay with the fire at all times.”

Smokey has done his part over the years to help prevent wildfires across the United States, starting back in 1944.

“Well Smokey Bear, the ad campaign started in 1944 and that was to protect the timber resources during World War II, ” said Nelson, “1944 the Ad Council and the U.S. Forest Service combined to initiate the Smokey Bear campaign.”

Nelson wants to inform Missourians that Smokey the Bear will be making appearances around the state in recognition of his 75th birthday.

Smokey will be talking with schools and making hundreds of other appearances throughout the year.