Only You Can Prevent $428,000 Smokey Bear Balloon Spending

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Throwback Thursday!

You might know Smokey the Bear, the long-time mascot of the U.S. Forest Service, who since 1944 has been warning Americans to prevent forest and wildfires. But did you know he has a hot air balloon likeness, which so far has cost taxpayers $428,386? That is a lot of expensive, hot air, even for D.C. 

From 2005 through 2020, taxpayers (mostly from the U.S. Forest Service) paid out $428,386 to the Friends of Smokey Bear Balloon for activities related to its hot air balloon. The 97-foot tall, 1,130 pound hot air balloon requires a 12- to 15-person set-up crew and a chase crew to ensure a safe landing, according to the Friends.  

The U.S. Army used $5,386 in military funds to fly Smokey over a lake—a non-flammable body of water— for an anniversary party.  

In 2017, the Army paid the Friends of Smokey Bear Balloon for the air-born Smokey to join his land-bound friends, like Ronald McDonald, for the a 50th anniversary celebration of Carlyle Lake (which features a dam operated by the Army Corps of Engineers).

Balloon proponents argue the balloon provides visibility and awareness, but the funds spent in the air might be better spent on the ground. There is an average of 60,467 fires caused each year by humans, fires that burn 2.7 million acres annually. 

Congress, in recent years, has authorized and appropriated billions in federal funds for wildfires, some caused by humans, others by nature herself. Just last year, a deadly California fire, that burned more than 22,000 acres, was started by pyrotechnics from a gender-reveal party.

No word on whether the expectant family had ever seen the Smokey the Bear hot-air balloon. 

The #WasteOfTheDay is presented by the forensic auditors at

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