Campfire Safety, Disposing of Ashes, and Alternatives to Fires.
Having a campfire in the outdoors is a long-held camping tradition, but a seemingly benign campfire can quickly grow into a blaze that destroys thousands of acres and cause millions of dollars of property damage. There are several things that visitors can do when camping to reduce the potential damage while still having an enjoyable outdoor experience.
Know Before You Go
Before planning a trip, check with the land management agency where you intend to camp. Whether it is the local state park or a national park or forest, these agencies provide up-to-date information as to the current fire danger, and may have specific policies regarding campfires. For instance, designated campgrounds have fire pits and places to dispose of ashes, whereas wilderness areas do not have such established facilities.
Use Your Fuel Wisely
Wood sources vary according to region, the land manager, and the local environment. If wood is not provided by the agency responsible for the area, then wood must be collected. Use wood that is lying on the ground, and that is no longer than your forearm, and no thicker than your wrist. These are often dead branches that have fallen from trees. Burning small pieces of dead wood allows the fire to burn down to small coals and ash, and leaves few large pieces of charcoal behind.
When collecting wood, go out from the campsite several hundred feet and pick up only a few pieces in one area. Clearing the ground surrounding a campsite leaves little wood for future users. Collect enough wood for the evening, and scatter any remaining pieces the next day. Check with the local land agency as to whether it is ok to bring wood into the area from home.
Keep it Small, Keep it Safe
Smaller fires are easier to control than large bonfires, and leave less ash and charcoal behind. Clear the ground surrounding the fire ring of pine needles and burnable material. Keep the wood pile away from the fire so it does not catch fire, as well as liquid fuel such as white gas or propane. Have water on hand to douse the fire, and make sure the fire is dead out at the end of the evening. This means that the coals should be cool to the touch.
Dispose of the Ashes
A large pile of ashes in the fire ring can be a eyesore to other users. Dispose of campfire ashes and coals before leaving the site, especially in wilderness areas. After making sure the coals are dead out, crush the coals with your hands into small pieces, ideally powder. Gather the ashes into a zip lock bag or trash bag, and disperse them far away from camp or trails. Spread the ashes as if you were sowing apple seeds, throwing handfuls of ashes in different directions.
What if Open Fires Aren’t Allowed?
A candle lantern makes a fine substitute in areas where campfires are banned. It keeps the flame contained, and is light enough to be easily carried in a backpack. Another method is to place a flashlight or head lamp into a wide-mouth water bottle. With the variety of colors available for water bottles, a few lined up together allow for a cool glow.