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.
Saturday, September 3, 2011
Yes, You Can Prevent Forest Fires
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!