Money needed to keep Smokey Bear in the air

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Chances are you’ve seen the iconic Smokey Bear hot-air balloon floating in the sky, especially during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Now, there’s concern Smokey might be grounded.

The crew behind the balloon has even started a GoFundMe so the beloved bear can fly.

“I’ve been a pilot for 43 years,” said Beth Wright-Smith, one of Smokey Bear’s pilots. “I’ve been flying him since 2020.”

Wright-Smith said the pandemic really hurt their program, and they’ve been saving for a new balloon.

The group is hoping to raise $60,000 to help maintain the giant balloon, its travel trailers, inspections, and equipment – all until they can save enough for a new one.

“We’ve been saving for a new balloon because this one’s getting pretty worn out, he’s almost 20 years old,” Wright-Smith said.

Keeping the balloon in the air isn’t just a hobby for Wright-Smith and the other pilots and volunteers. They say Smokey Bear flying helps highlight a bigger message for the community.

“His motto used to be ‘Only you can prevent forest fires,’ but it’s changed now to ‘Only you can prevent wildfires,'” she said. “It’s important to get Smokey’s message across, especially as we head into fire season in New Mexico.

To donate to the GoFundMe, click here.