An average of 7.5 million acres of forest are impacted by wildfires each year. And almost 85% of wildfires are caused by humans.
These statistics may look pretty bleak, but the good news is that it means most of the fire damage done to forests each year can be prevented. With a little extra prep, attentiveness, and care, we can all make a large impact on the future of our natural spaces.
- DON’T MAKE A FIRE - The best way to lessen the impact of campfires on our natural spaces is to just do without them. Sure, fires are fun. But even more fun is having beautiful places we can all enjoy for years to come. Below this list of tips, we outline our favorite ways to stay cozy at camp without fire.
- MAKE SURE YOU KNOW THE CURRENT FIRE DANGER LEVEL IN THE AREA - Always check with the agency that manages the land you’ll be on to get the most up-to-date information on the fire danger level. To find this info, consult your county’s website or make a call or web visit to the Bureau of Land Management, National Forest Service, state and local parks, and other agencies.
- USE ESTABLISHED FIRE RINGS - Established fire rings are the safest places to build a fire. They can be found at most established campsites in campgrounds and sometimes even in wilderness sites. Make sure to clear and pack out any trash found in the ring and clear away natural fuel sources before starting your fire. For campsites that don’t have a fire ring, select a spot that’s free of dry organic material and make a little ring out of rocks to contain your fire. Before you leave, make sure your fire is completely extinguished and scatter the rocks you used to preserve the wild look of the area. In the frontcountry, fire pans or portable fire pits are safe ways to contain fires.
- CLEAR DEAD/DRY DEBRIS AWAY FROM YOUR FIRE RING - Before starting your fire, do a quick sweep around the perimeter to clear dead leaves, twigs, and other natural fuel sources away from your fire. Recommends clearing out an area 10 feet in diameter for your fire.
- KEEP YOUR FIRE SMALL - Everyone loves the allure of a roaring fire, but it’s not necessary or worth the risk to the land. Smaller fires still produce an enjoyable amount of heat and light, and they’re much easier to burn to ash and fully extinguish when you’re done.
- DON’T LEAVE YOUR FIRE UNATTENDED - It may be tempting to leave a fire smoldering while you step away for a few hours to hike so that it’s easier to get it going again when you return. But you shouldn’t ever leave your fire unattended. Winds can quickly change and carry little embers a great distance.
- EXTINGUISH FIRES COMPLETELY USING WATER - Make sure you always completely extinguish your fire with water before going to sleep or leaving your site. We use a large water jug in the frontcountry or a lightweight water pouch in the backcountry for extinguishing fires. Using sand or dirt isn’t nearly as effective at completely dousing a fire, so it’s not advisable to use it for putting out your flame. The Leave No Trace organization says you should “burn all wood to white ash, grind small coals to ash, thoroughly soak with water, and scatter the remains over a large area away from camp. Ashes may have to be packed out in river corridors.”
- KEEP EXTRA WATER CLOSE BY IN CASE BURNING DEBRIS ESCAPES FROM YOUR FIRE - It happens sometimes - your wood pops and sends sparks flying or a rogue gust of wind carries some burning ash away. Pay close attention to what your fire is doing at all times, and be ready with extra water to extinguish anything that escapes from your fire ring. Even tiny little embers can start devastating fires. We usually keep a large water jug with us in the frontcountry and a lightweight water pouch in the backcountry.
- KEEP EXTRA WOOD, GEAR & OTHER FLAMMABLES AWAY FROM FIRE - Keep any paper, garbage, extra firewood, liquid/gas fuel, and other flammable materials a safe distance from your fire ring. If you’re hanging out next to a fire with your sleeping bag or a camp blanket, make sure loose ends don’t get too close to the fire.
- BE ATTENTIVE WITH YOUR GAS STOVES/LANTERNS - The risk of starting a fire from a gas lantern or stove is pretty low, but it’s still good to handle these items with care since they’re a source of flame. Extra precautions should be used with alcohol stoves since they burn quick and hot, and they produce invisible flames. We generally recommend avoiding alcohol stoves because we don’t think their weight savings is worth the risk they come with.