It’s May, and it will soon be getting hotter than a frying pan down in Phoenix, so it’s time to travel to a much cooler climate for the summer. When we’re in Arizona, we enjoy spending our summers on the Mogollon Rim which sits at about 7,500 feet. Temps rarely get above 90 degrees in the summer up on the Rim, and the landscape is covered with beautiful cool pine forests – a refreshing oasis from the sweltering heat down in the valley.
Unfortunately, Arizona is particularly dry this year because of the lack of rainfall, and the danger of wildfires is way up!! Even though I enjoy a good campfire, I was happy to see that the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest had already instituted Stage I fire restrictions. Under Stage I, campfires are only allowed at developed campsites, which means that if you are camping in the back country, you are risking a heavy fine for starting a campfire. In short, it’s a big No-No!! On the good side, restrictions will probably be lifted once the monsoons arrive in the late summer, a beautiful time of the year to be camping in the White Mountains. At least we can still use our old Coleman stove for cooking meals.
Anyway I wanted to post some helpful hints about campfire safety, since wildfire season is upon us. Here are a few basic rules, we try to follow when we are camping, especially in the backcountry:
1. Make sure you call the local forest ranger station to find out about Fire restrictions in the area where you will be camping. Some areas may even require permits.
2. NEVER start a campfire on a windy or RED FLAG day, as live embers can easily travel up to a mile away, and ignite wildfires some distance from your camp.
3. NEVER leave the campfire unattended, and never leave children alone by a campfire - Kids will be kids and even with innocent horseplay, accidents can happen. Always designate someone (Adult) who is responsible for tending to the fire, kind of like a designated driver. Don’t hesitate to give them a big title like “Lord of the Flames” or something, to make them feel kinda important.
3. Before we even consider building a campfire, we make sure that we have brought along the following:
A Fire Extinguisher, At least 15 gallons of water, a shovel, rake and a bucket. If you are camping in an developed campground with water, it doesn’t hurt to pack a lightweight expandable garden hose.
4. If campfires are allowed, we always use an existing campfire ring when possible. If you have to construct your own, it is important that you pick a SAFE place for digging your fire pit. NEVER dig a fire pit under low hanging branches that can easily catch fire. Always try to pick a large clearing devoid of trees or bushes.
5. Once you have selected your spot, use a rake to clear the area of combustible material (pine needles, dry leaves, or twigs), leaving just a layer of dirt. Save the debris you have raked up in a pile far away from your campfire ring, as they will make good starter material for future campfires. I try to rake an area that is at least 20 feet in diameter. That way if live embers pop out of the fire, as they always do, nothing will catch on fire.
6. Once you have dug your fire pit in the center of a 20 foot circular area of cleared dirt, build a ring of stones around the pit, and remember to try to keep your campfires small. Large bonfires are another big NO NO, as they can easily get out of hand.
7. When building your campfire, work from little to big. Start with dried pine needles, grasses, and very small twigs. Pine needles make excellent tinder because of their high oil content. I have also heard that oily potato chips (Doritos)can be used for tender if no pine needles are available. Once you have a small fire started, You can then add kindling and larger pieces of wood.
8. Before you leave a campfire for ANY REASON, make sure that it is totally extinguished!! Pour ample amounts of water on the fire, stir the ashes, and pour even more water on it, until it is cool enough to touch. With a shovel cover the pit with dirt. This will substantially decrease the amount of oxygen available to embers that can easily reignite if it starts to get windy. Hope this helps!!
A year after the Great Wallow Fire, Don, and I took a road trip which included the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway from Clifton to Alpine. It’s still a great drive, and one that I would highly recommend. During the trip, we saw firsthand how devastating the Wildfire was with mile after mile of blackened mountain ridges. Honestly it looked to me like we were at ground zero of a nuclear attack. The Wallow fire, one of the largest fires in Arizona’s History consumed over 530,000 acres of prime forest land. It’s sad to think that it may take 100 or more years for the forest to completely recover. What makes me so angry is that it all started from a live campfire that was abandoned, and the kicker is that the two boys who started the fire, got off with a mere slap of the wrist.
I have lost count of the number of unattended campfires Don and I have extinguished in the back country. I remember once while I was on a long hike, I found one completely abandoned, and absolutely no one in site. It was obvious that they had left the camp for good. The campfire was still smoking, and I had no way of putting it out, as I was down to just a swallow or two of water in my water bottles. I didn’t want to leave the campfire, so I called Don on the walkie-talkie and even though our camp was over a mile away, he brought a gallon of water and a shovel with him to put out the fire. I only wish people would think twice about how dangerous and costly a wildfire is. If I remember correctly, it cost the state over $103 million once the Wallow Fire had run its course, not to mention the loss of wildlife habitat..........
The following is a great video of the Wallow Fire I found on You Tube: