Saturday, September 3, 2011

Yes, You Can Prevent Forest Fires

Early last Monday morning while exploring the Thomas Lake cluster on the western edge of Indian Heaven Wilderness, we came across an empty campsite with the fire still smoldering (pictured). Can you see what’s wrong with this picture?

Fortunately, it was just plain luck that we noticed a forest fire in the making and put it out. We walked past it a couple times before what was happening really sunk in.

Although there were no flames and no visible smoke, the fire was burning slowly in the ground, extending beyond the fire pit and making its way toward the dry log to the right poised like a giant matchstick ready to ignite.

Immediately Matt sprang into action, pulling out his collapsible metal trowel to start stirring up the hot ashes. “Take my water bottle and yours and fill them up with water,” he instructed me. I scampered the 10 yards or so down a short steep bank to Thomas Lake, filled up both bottles, and dashed back.

As I poured water around the pit, smoke erupted from the ash, revealing hot spots. Matt stirred and dug, and I filled bottles and dashed down and back from the lake, pouring water in the overturned embers. After 20 minutes of this routine the fire safely succumbed.

“I think I lowered the lake level with all the water I carried out,” I joked.

While controlled burns are now understood to be valuable to forest health, careless and unintentional human-caused fires are always bad news—especially in designated and protected wilderness areas. Late summer is peak forest fire season, so it’s really not a good idea to have a campfire at all. Yes, campfires are mesmerizing and lovely, but they aren’t worth the risk. If you’re camping, bring a stove for cooking and flashlights for the dark.

Click here for more information on campfires and how to safely and thoroughly put out a campfire. Remember what Smokey Bear says and be a good camper!


JoAnn said...

Good catch! People are either careless or stupid. I guess that's how the big wildfire in Arizona startd--two cousins left the campfire unattended and went for a hike.

jill said...

Hey JoAnn! Welcome to Pacific Northwest Seasons! I didn't hear that about the big AZ wildfire, wow. I recall a huge fire a few years ago that was started when a ranger had burned a love letter at a campsite and it reignited. You can never be too careful! So I say no campfires at all this time of year.

JoAnn said...

We always chuckle when sometimes we can't get a campfire started that someone set a big blaze with one love letter! Must of been mighty dry. Been following your blog for awhile and really enjoy it. Move to the Forgotten Corner of Washington seven years ago and are really enjoying it.

jill said...

Hey JoAnn, Have been through your corner of the state some years ago on road trips but not enough. Glad you love it. Sounds like a blogworthy trip to take, alas won't happen this year for me before the snow flies. best, jill

Angela S said...

Hi Jill, thank you and to your friend for preventing another forest fire. And thanks for the educational post. I learned a little more about campfires. We used to camp when I was a kid and my parents always had rather large campfires. I had no idea how easy it is for them to spread underground. I didn't realize that's what the darkened soil represented.